Oct. 27, 1989
St. Joseph steps forward for Jacob Wetterling
by Stuart Goldschen
(This article was written Tuesday, Oct. 24, to meet the Newsleader publication deadline that day. Events since then are not reported here.)
One St. Joseph woman came because she knew others would do the same for her.
A St. John’s University student came because he had a sister the same age.
A convent sister at St. Ben’s came because she just had to do something.
They all came: St. John’s and St. Ben’s students, faculty and staff at both colleges, friends, strangers, neighbors, couples, singles, parents and kids.
They all came to pray, to cry and to hope for the safe return of Jacob Wetterling.
Jacob, 11, the son of Jerry and Pat Wetterling, 29422 Kiwi Court, was abducted Sunday night, Oct. 22, by an unidentified man with a gun near the Wetterling’s home on 91st Avenue S.
News of the abduction spread rapidly Monday morning, and the town immediately forged a steel bond of community sympathy and group action.
As helicopters landed and took off, law-enforcement officers filtered in and out, and media representatives registered the heartbeat of the town, community groups converged on the sheriff’s mobile command center at the Del-Win Ballroom, 195 88th Ave. in east St. Joseph.
The center was set up to coordinate the search for Jacob, utilizing four helicopters, eight All-Terrain-Vehicles, a blood-hound, the FBI, the State Department of Natural Resources, and some 35 police and sheriff’s deputies from three counties.
Local residents showed up first to help serve food to the search crews and distribute “missing” bulletins with Jacob’s picture to area businesses and community centers. They went through St. Joseph, to Waite Park, the West St. Cloud Industrial Park, Rockville, Cold Spring and St. Stephen, and even stopped delivery trucks to spread the word.
Then came the college students, in cars, trucks and vans, to lend a hand. Some 70 students from St. John’s AKS fraternity, their friends and fellow students volunteered to distribute bulletins in greater St. Joseph, St. Cloud and surrounding communities.
A group of nearly 75 students, faculty, staff and local residents marched two miles from St. Ben’s to the command center at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to offer prayer vigils for Jacob. They prayed in unison, blessed the search crews and sadly displayed their feelings on their heart-shaped placards.
“Jacob, God be with you.”
“Our prayers are with you.”
“We hope you’re home soon.”
David Rusciano, a 21-year-old St. John’s junior from Stewartville, Minn., was with the student volunteers. He said the abduction “kind of hits home” because he has a sister the same age as Jacob.
“I feel St. Joseph is pretty much our town, and I’d do anything I could for it,” Rusciano said. “Whatever happens here is going to affect us all.”
“The whole campus has been upset all day, and they want to do everything they can,” said Heidi Froehle, a 19-year-old sophomore from St. Joseph.
Sr. Susan Rudolph, director of housing at St. Ben’s and leader of the vigil, said all the members of her group “have an edge on prayer.” She said there was a lot of concern on campus, and “many people wanted to do something.”
Beyond the command center, St. Joseph shivered in disbelief. Most residents were shocked by the news and disturbed their small-town tranquility was so savagely violated.
“Things like this aren’t supposed to happen here,” said Pat Gagl, 30084 95th Ave. She complained “the street lighting is really bad in St. Joseph, and something ought to be done about it.”
St. Joseph Police Chief Bill Lorentz said he recalled only one similar event occurring here in his 27 years on the force, but it was so long ago he couldn’t remember the details. Told most people feel something like this doesn’t happen here, he said: “Up until now I would have said that, too.”
The abduction took place on a dark residential street at about 9:15 p.m., according to the Stearns County Sheriff’s report. Jacob, his brother, Trevor, 10, and a friend, Aaron Larson, 32937 Apache Lane, St. Joseph, were bicycling home after renting a video at the nearby Tom Thumb Food Market on Highway 52 S.
Larson told the Newsleader he saw a dark-clad, masked man walk out of a driveway toward them and say he had a gun. Larson said the man told Trevor to turn off the flashlight he was carrying and ordered all the boys to put their bikes in the ditch along the road.
The man told the boys to lie down and tell him their ages, Larson said.
“He told Trevor to take off and run as fast as he could or he’d shoot him,” he continued. “Then he looked at me and told me to do the same thing.”
Larson said he looked back as he took off and saw the man grab Jacob. When he looked back again after running he said they were gone.
Larson said he and Jacob were best friends. Both are sixth-graders at North Community School in St. Cloud.
News of the abduction forced the faculty and staff at North to postpone a planned sixth-grade overnight excursion to the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve near Hackensack, Minn. Jacob was scheduled to make the trip.
North social worker Larry Campbell said the school provided extra psychologists and social workers this past week to help students deal with their feelings about Jacob and their concern for their own safety. He said the field trip was rescheduled for Nov. 20-21.
Pat Wetterling told the Newsleader she and Jerry were at a friend’s house in St. Augusta the night of the abduction. She said Jacob, Trevor and Aaron were babysitting 8-year-old Carmen Wetterling when the boys decided to ask a neighbor to stay with Carmen while they went out to rent a video.
Patty said Jacob called her to get permission, but she refused because she said he was not accustomed to doing that at night. Jerry then spoke to Jacob, she said, and gave his permission, provided the boys take some precautions. Aaron was to wear a white sweatshirt and Jacob a fluorescent vest, and Trevor was to carry a flashlight.
Patty said Jacob was wearing a soccer jersey with “Wetterling” written on the back, a blue fishnet mesh overshirt and a red nylon hockey jacket with his name on the front and “St. Cloud Police Department” on the back. He also wore blue sweatpants, Nike high-top tennis shoes and the fluorescent vest.
Jacob is 5 feet tall, weighs 75 pounds, and has brown hair, blue eyes and a mole on his left cheek.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department is asking anyone with information on Jacob’s whereabouts to call the department at 320-251-4240 or Crime Stoppers at 320-255-1301.
The Wetterlings said they have received hundreds of phone calls and “everyone has been absolutely wonderful.”
“But there’s nothing anybody can do or say,” Patty said. “We’re hoping Jacob will use all his resources and find his way back to us soon.” She requested people not call her home at this time.
Jacob Wetterling (front row, third from right) is pictured with his Insbrook soccer team last summer. Jacob’s father, Jerry Wetterling (top left) was the team’s head coach. Jacob was instrumental in leading his team to the runner-up championship of its league in the St. Cloud Youth Soccer Association. Aaron Larson (back row, fifth from right), who was with Jacob at the abduction scene but was released, was also a member of the team.