Minnesota cold case cracked open by sad discovery

Wetterling remains found

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. -- There was a break this weekend in a cold case -- that had shocked the nation. Eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling disappeared nearly 30 years ago, on a rural road near  his home in central Minnesota.

Jacob Wetterling WCCO

Jacob Wetterling’s face has been burned in the minds of parents since October 22, 1989. When he, his brother and a friend biked to a convenience store to rent a movie. Jacob would never come home. 

For more than 26 years, Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling has pleaded for his abductor to come forward.

“ ... We will hope and pray that we will have the answer to the one question we have asked forever: Where is Jacob?  Somebody knows and we are begging for those answers. Thank you “

On Saturday, Stearns County Sheriff’s deputies confirmed Jacob’s remains were located after longtime suspect Danny Heinrich led the FBI to a farm in central Minnesota, not far from the abduction site. Sources say he gave the location as part of an ongoing plea deal.

According to court documents, Heinrich was questioned in connection to the case in 1990 but never charged.

Sources say Danny Heinrich lead investigators to a forested area where Jacob Wetterling’s remains were finally found. WCCO

Neighbors say they always knew he was a suspect.

Danny Heinrich

“Everyone got to talking and everyone heard about it,” said one neighbor. “That he was a suspect back in ‘89, they booked him, took mugshots and hair samples.”

The case changed the lives of parents and children in Minnesota.

“We went everywhere. We just knew you had to be home for dinner and bedtime. You could roam anywhere,” said neighbor Jeff Kremers.

“Life changed after that very much,” said another neighbor, Sandy Stocker.

Jacob’s family has not spoken publicly -- but Jacob’s mother Patty Wetterling did tweet out: “Our family is drawing strength from all your love & support. We’re struggling with words at this time. Thank you for your hope. #jacobshope.”

The case had national implications. 

In 1994, Congress passed a law named after Jacob Wetterling that requires states to establish sex offender registries.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center released this statement Saturday morning on their Facebook page:

“We are in deep grief. We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way. In this moment of pain and shock, we go back to the beginning. The Wetterlings had a choice to walk into bitterness and anger or to walk into a light what could be, a light of hope. Their choice changed the world.

This light has been burning for close to 27 years. The spark began in the moments after the abduction of Jacob Wettlering, when his family decided that light is stronger than darkness. They lit the flame that became Jacob’s Hope. All of Central Minnesota flocked to and fanned the flame, hoping for answers.

The light spread state-wide, nationally and globally as hearts connected to the 11 year old boy who liked to play goalie for his hockey team, wanted to be a football player, played the trombone, and loved the times he spent with his sisters, brother and parents.

Today, we gather around the same flame. the flame that has become more than the hope for one as it led the way home for thousands of others. It’s the light that illuminates a world that Jacob believed in, where things are fair and just.

Our hearts are heavy, but we are being held up by all of the people who have been a part of making Jacob’s Hope a light that will never be extinguished. It shines on in a different way. We are, and we will continue to be, Jacob’s Hope. Jacob, you are loved.”