Wetterling remains may have been found

Published 9:44 am Saturday, September 3, 2016

Search may be over for St. Joseph boy who was kidnapped at gunpoint in ’89

Sources say the remains of Jacob Wetterling may have been found in central Minnesota, according to news media in the Twin Cities.

The remains, which have not yet been identified, were found after Danny Heinrich, a person of interest in Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance, provided information that led to authorities recovering the remains, according to St. Paul-based news station KSTP.

Jacob Wetterling

Jacob Wetterling

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DNA tests are being conducted to determine if they are the boy’s remains.

Patty Wetterling, Jacob Wetterling’s mother, confirmed to KARE 11 this morning that her son’s remains had been found.

“All I can confirm is that Jacob has been found and our hearts are broken,” she told the TV station. “I am not responding to any media yet as I have no words.”

Federal authorities declined to comment.

Jacob Wetterling, 11 at the time, was riding his bicycle with his brother and a friend on Oct. 22, 1989, when a masked gunman abducted him from a rural road near his home in St. Joseph, about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He hasn’t been seen since.

No one has been arrested or charged in his abduction, which led to changes in sex offender registration laws.

But last year, authorities took another look at the case, and were led to Heinrich, a man they called a “person of interest” in Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping.

Heinrich denied any involvement in Jacob Wetterling’s abduction, and was not charged with that crime. But he has pleaded not guilty to several federal child pornography charges.

Heinrich, of Annadale, has been held since October on child pornography charges. At that time he was also named a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case.

The FBI has said that Heinrich matched the general description of a man who assaulted several boys in Paynesville from 1986 to 1988. Earlier this year, Heinrich’s DNA was found on the sweatshirt of a 12-year-old boy who was kidnapped from Cold Spring and sexually assaulted nine months before Jacob Wetterling’s abduction.

Heinrich’s attorney did not respond to an emailed request for comment Saturday.

Patty Wetterling always kept hope her son would be found alive. She became a national advocate for children, and with her husband, Jerry Wetterling, founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, which works to help communities and families prevent child exploitation. In 1994, Congress passed a law named after Jacob Wetterling requiring states to establish sex offender registries.

Julie Kohl, a detective with the Albert Lea Police Department, said she was working in law enforcement in Iowa when Jacob Wetterling was abducted and has listened to his mother, Patty Wetterling, on two or three different occasions speak about the events surrounding the abduction.

Kohl said she hopes the remains get identified as Jacob Wetterling’s to provide closure for the family.

“They have been through a lot,” she said.

“It’s one of those cases that is far and few between, thank God,” Kohl said. “Stranger abductions aren’t that common, but when they are they make national news.”

Albert Lea Police Lt. Darin Palmer said he remembers hearing about Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance as a child and being reminded at that time about not getting into cars or leaving with people you didn’t know.

“I think it will be great closure for the family to finally be able to put it to rest,” Palmer said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.