Local boy frightened by stranger
by Stuart Goldschen
Neary five months after the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, a St. Joseph housewife said the families in her neighborhood were beginning to relax and feel normal again.
Until Friday, March 16, when the woman’s son was approached on the street by a strange man in a green van.
Bonnie Weisser, 32612 Pamela Lane, Pleasant Acres, told the Newsleader her 12-year-old son, Jason, was “terrified” by the incident. She said the stranger made no attempt to abduct her son but that Jason feared that possibility and fled in a state of panic.
Weisser said a Stearns County Sheriff’s officer responded to her call for help but did not come to her house to talk to her son.
The encounter took place at 4:30 p.m. on Crestview Drive, a few blocks from the Weisser’s home. Bonnie Weisser said it was the busiest time of the day on the busiest street in Pleasant Acres.
Weisser said Jason, a schoolmate of Jacob’s at North Community School, was delivering newspapers on an ATV when a man in an old green van stopped to ask him for an address. She said the man told Jason to come to his van to give him directions, and Jason refused, saying he did not know the name mentioned.
The man then said he had another address he wanted Jason to help him with and again asked Jason to come to the van, Weisser said. The man offered to pay him if he would come, she said.
“At that point my son panicked, was terrified, and took off down the road on the four-wheeler,” Weisser said. “He got to the top of a hill about two blocks away, stopped and turned around, and the van was gone.”
Weisser said Jason described the man as white, about 40 years old, with a black beard, a stocking cap and a deep voice. He told her the van was an old green vehicle with an elongated rear end, windowless side panels and rust along the bottom.
Weisser said a friend of hers who lives near Pleasant Acres told her later he has seen such a van “numerous times” while jogging in the neighborhood.
Weisser said she called 911 when Jason came home after the incident, and a Stearns County Sheriff dispatcher told her an officer would come immediately. Weisser said she saw the patrol car in her neighborhood soon thereafter but the officer never came to her house.
“After an hour and 10 minutes I called 911 again and said we were waiting for someone to come and talk to my son,” Weisser said.
The sheriff’s dispatcher told her a patrolman was in the area and had “checked the roadways for a good 15 minutes” before leaving in response to another duty call.
“I’d think the officer would want to talk to my son,” Weisser said, “but he never came.”
Jim Kostreba, Stearns County chief deputy sheriff, said the officer involved “certainly could have gone to the house.” He said officers are instructed to do so if the complainant requests it.
“Certainly we respond to anything where the people are trying to pick up somebody off the street,” Kostreba said. “Since the Jacob abduction we’ve gotten probably hundreds and hundreds of these types of calls. We did get a car into the area and checked it out.”
He said the sheriff’s department received the call from Bonnie Weisser at 5:10 p.m., and an officer was dispatched to the scene at 5:25 p.m. The sheriff’s car “vacated the area at 5:36 p.m.,” 11 minutes later, he said.
“A contact could have been made with her (Weisser), no question about that,” Kostreba said. “What I should do is give her a call and check with her.”
Weisser said the incident may not have been what it seemed to her son, but she would “rather be safe than sorry.” She said Jason was truly afraid and would not make up such a story.
“It may have been just an innocent circumstance,” she said. “But I would hate to find out the hard way when someone is missing again.”
Weisser and her husband, Kevin, have two other children, both 6-year-old girls. She said the girls suffered recurring nightmares at the time of Jacob’s abduction.
“We were all very nervous and scared, but as time goes on we’re not as scared – until something like this happens,” Bonnie Weisser said. “A lot of neighbors said kids were forgetting to be afraid, but now this has brought it all back to them. We have to not forget. There are probably many other men who are still running around who want to harm children.”
Weisser said she has told her children to run away from anyone who approaches them – even if the person has a gun and threatens to shoot them if they don’t submit.
She said she wants people to know about Jason’s experience so they will continue to be alert. Especially this summer, she said, when kids are home from school and playing outdoors.