Jacob Wetterling was abducted and killed 27 years ago today. It was October 22, 1989, when Jacob, along with his brother and best friend, rode their bikes down a rural Minnesota road. A masked man appeared from out of nowhere and took Jacob and gunpoint. The 11-year-old was never again seen alive.
Just last month, that man, Danny Heinrich, confessed to the crime and led authorities to Jacob’s remains. A memorial service held for the boy drew nearly 3,000 people.
The tragedy was a major milemarker not only for Minnesota, but for many Gen-Xers. In 2012, A Gen-Xer I know only as Justin sent me a guest post about the impact the abduction of Jacob Wetterling had on his life. Here is an excerpt:
At first, the changes were subtle. Parents would call us in earlier, ask us more questions, demand for “check-ins” every 30 minutes. Long bike trips to the Food N’ Fuel or to the city dam or to the video rental store were slowly phased out—there wasn’t enough time to get there and back.
Kids started getting more gifts from their parents: the new Zelda game, the huge grey box that was the new GameBoy, and my parents even bought me a Vic20 computer with games at a garage sale. Kids were invited to each other’s homes to play video games, to watch Fraggle Rock on HBO, and to eat Mac-N-Cheese or pizza rolls. We were inside, safe, secure, and video games slowly replaced games of tag or trips down to the creek.
Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum…As time passed and hope for finding Jacob dwindled, we couldn’t help but look out windows and see a different world.
In the years following the tragedy — nearly three decades — Patty and Jerry Wetterling have been active in creating and advancing the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in honor of their son. They work to make communities safer for children. The organization promotes the 11 simple traits that Jacob valued, and it’s grown into a movement.
- Be fair
- Be kind
- Be understanding
- Be honest
- Be thankful
- Be a good sport
- Be a good friend
- Be joyful
- Be generous
- Be gentle with others
- Be positive
See the amazing ways this movement is already spreading.
Letter to Jacob Wetterling
On February 17, which would have been Jacob’s 38th birthday, his mother wrote a letter to her son. It read in part:
Birthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight!
I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That’s pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.
My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong…so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.
I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims…
And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we’ll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…