On October 22, 1989, Minnesota changed permanently. On this day in a small town called St. Joseph, MN, 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped and went missing. He was riding back from a store with two other boys when a man stopped them and took Jacob. He was never seen again. This case captured the attention of the nation, as St. Joseph was a tiny community of 2000, where nothing like this ever happened. I remember being a teenager and hearing about the case, and the subsequent search. My wife grew up in St. Joe and even went to school with the other Wetterling children.
This case had a tremendous impact on everyone in Minnesota, whether you lived in the cities or in the country. It was this case that got everyone talking with their kids about dealing with strangers, and caused parents to impose stricter rules on where and when their kids could go alone. This one incident changed the very nature of who we were as a society. The picture at the top of this blog entry is a face that everyone in Minnesota knew, and was associated with tragedy and loss.
In many ways, Jacob came to belong to all of us. We wept with his family as the days, months, and years plunged the case cold. His mother, Patty Wetterling, became the face of child safety and stronger prosecution of dangerous people, including the first state sex offender registry. We all knew her name and her face, and the cause that she was fighting for, and we were all saddened because we knew why she was hurting.
This weekend, there is finally closure. The remains of Jacob have been found, and the man who killed him was the one who finally led authorities there. It’s a sad day for Minnesota, but it’s also a day when we can finally feel some sense of relief that this long tragic story finally has an ending. It’s not how we wanted it to end. We wanted Jacob found in those days and weeks that followed his abduction. Yet, in this world that was forever changed by his disappearance, we can finally put him to rest. We can remember the face of a boy that brought an entire state together in grief, and changed us as a community.