by Stuart Goldschen
More than six months after the abduction of his son with no promising leads to the boy’s whereabouts, Jerry Wetterling is still hopeful Jacob will return. He is buoyed by the feeling “hope is aplenty here in central Minnesota.”
But the wait is hard, he said, and “six months is too long,” he added. “The days are long and the nights are long. I want it to end right now.”
Wetterling told a reporter there was “nothing definite” to indicate an end was in sight, but he said “there seems to be real good positive energy going on” among crime investigators and volunteers in St. Joseph and throughout the state and country.
“It’s not like the activity is less, it’s more,” he said. “Nobody is feeling right until Jacob is back and this terrible wrong has been reversed.”
Wetterling said life for him and his family has not returned to normal and it “certainly will never be the same for us.” He added however, that “all that isn’t bad.”
“It isn’t right, and it’s not comfortable,” he said. “But there’s a lot of opportunity for caring and reaching out that’s come about from this terrible situation. Our family isn’t complete right now, but we have a lot of zeal and a lot of support. We know we’re not alone, and that makes it much easier to go from day to day.”
Wetterling said he feels people have not forgotten Jacob despite the time lapse and the lack of a clear trail to follow since the Oct. 22 abduction on 91st Avenue S. about a half mile from the Wetterling’s home at 29422 Kiwi Court.
“People go on with their lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about Jacob,” he said. “I know they are. Maybe there’s a change in the way things are being done and a change in emphasis because of the circumstances, but that real conscious togetherness is still there. I feel that very strongly.”
Wetterling said the search for Jacob has significance for other abducted children as well and serves as a vehicle for public education on the increasingly important issue of missing children in general.
“It’s important not only for us that Jacob is found,” he said. “It’s really important for many, many other people who have been touched to action because of this situation.
“It is our strong belief through exposure, through the broadcast and print media, that the message of this terrible problem of abducted children has reached all levels of society. More and more people are aware of the problem and the devastation of families and communities that have suffered a child abduction.”
Wetterling and the Friends of Jacob office in St. Joseph has been instrumental in the distribution of information and education on Jacob and other missing children. He said the office has compiled a national mailing list of law enforcement agencies “second-to-none nationwide.”
The office has sent out more than 100 million fliers about Jacob and other missing children across the nation and has reached every sheriff’s office and police station in the country.
“We feel we have a ready access mailing list for other stranger abductions, god forbid they occur,” Wetterling said. “That information can get out within hours (of an abduction) around the country. We feel we have something to offer in other situations.”
Jacob’s abduction, and the world-wide publicity it has generated, has indeed been a catalyst for national efforts on behalf of other missing children. Many officials have said Jacob’s case has received the most public attention ever of all such cases, except for the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby in 1932.
“I’m not sure why,” Wetterling said, “but I think the biggest thing is the uniqueness of Jacob’s case. The Task Force people say they have nothing in their profiles to compare this to in the history of kidnapping. This had a lot of macabre aspects about it that struck people hard.”
Wetterling said Jacob’s abduction is unique because it occurred in a rural area where such an event is very rare, there was a masked man and a gun involved, and there were witnesses to the event.
Jacob’s brother, Trevor, and a friend, Aaron Larson, were with Jacob the night of the abduction but were released by the kidnapper.
“Unlike so many abductions where there are no witnesses and things aren’t looked at seriously for a number of hours or days, Jacob’s case started like a massive snowball,” Wetterling said. “The momentum was there from the beginning, and it was really charged.”
Wetterling lamented the fact other cases of child abduction have not received the attention devoted to Jacob. He said many cases are ignored because children of minority families are involved.
“That’s very sad for me,” he said. “But it’s just the way society is still.”
Wetterling said he knew of the abduction of a native American boy in rural Wisconsin in 1988 whose fate was known only to the people of the local area. He said the case is still unsolved, and the boy’s “very grieving family” is still waiting for his return.
“I doubt if Jacob were a native American or black or Hispanic he would have had as much exposure as he has had,” Wetterling said.
He said families of lower socio-economic backgrounds are also at a disadvantage in such crises because they don’t have “community connections” to assist them. Wetterling is a St. Joseph chiropractor, and his wife, Patty, is a teacher, and both have been every active in community affairs.
Wetterling has recently returned to work full time, but he said he takes time off whenever an event relating to Jacob’s disappearance warrants his attention or presence. He said he finds comfort in his “calling” to help people ease their physical pain.
“I love my work, which is what I feel to be my calling,” he said. “I feel like I was put here to try to ease pain. It gives me pleasure to see people get better from their pains and aches.
“At the same time, however, it’s harder for me to focus on that totally. But I think it’s good for me to have some time where I’m not always thinking about Jacob’s situation.
“At work I can absorb my mind into that process of making patients feel better. And that recharges me to be able to work harder in our search for Jacob.”
Wetterling said his wife and other three children, Amy, 14, Trevor, 10, and Carmen, 8, are “coping real well” under the circumstances. He said they gather strength as a family and help each other get through one day at a time.
“It’s hardest for Trevor,” Wetterling said, “Because he and Jacob are only 19 months apart and are best buddies as well as brothers.” He said Trevor “misses someone to fight with once in a while.”
But it’s hard for everyone, especially the whole Wetterling family. And as six months moves into seven, an early plea by a group of area elementary students assumes bold-letter proportions:
“Jacob, call home!”