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25 years later, Wetterling family still hurts

Jerry and Patty Wetterling stand next to a tree planted in 1990 for their son Jacob near the entrance of North Junior High School in St. Cloud. Jacob Wetterling was abducted on Oct. 22, 1989, in St. Joseph, Minn. He has not been found.

ST. JOSEPH — Twenty-five years after the unsolved kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, his parents are still coping with heartbreak.

Jacob was 11 years old when he was abducted by a masked gunman while riding his bicycle near his home in St. Joseph. He hasn't been seen since. Wednesday will mark the 25th anniversary of his disappearance on Oct. 22, 1989.

"Clearly, we were the center of the storm. But the victims were all over." said Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother..

For example, she said, the kidnapping changed the lives of Jacob's sixth-grade classmates, too.

"When I think of Jacob, he's an 11-year-old boy," said Jerry Wetterling, Jacob's father. "If he's out there somewhere, he's 36 years old."


One of those changed classmates at North Junior High was Alison Feigh, who is now program manager of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in Minneapolis, which works to end child abuse, neglect and exploitation.

"Every year, we're hoping we never have to do (the anniversary) again," Feigh said. "Anniversaries are celebrations. But every day as we get closer to it, there's the hope that this is the last time."

The Wetterlings aren't exactly sure how they've managed to cope, and never have been.

"For us, it's just there. It's there," Jerry Wetterling said. "(Others) can't imagine it. (Others are) spared from living it continuously. It's just what we do."

Patty didn't consider herself a particularly strong person, but she went on to become a national leader in the cause of missing children. She boosted her profile — and the visibility for their cause — even higher when she ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004 and 2006. She's also board chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"I never really wanted to be known, other than as a good mother. That's the part that makes me cry the most," she said.

Patty Wetterling manages to maintain an element of compassion for Jacob's abductor. She said he was once an 11-year-old child, too, and she wonders what happened to him that would have caused him to do such a horrible thing.

She said she gets asked all the time who she thinks kidnapped Jacob. She said she honestly doesn't know.


"Everybody wanted it to be a bad guy from New York or California who came in and did this horrible thing and left. But statistically, it's probably somebody right from our community — somebody's brother, somebody's uncle, somebody's dad, somebody's neighbor. And those are hard to turn in. But you know what? It's 25 years later. It's time. Why would you hold that painful secret any longer?"

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