Time to move on from retelling Wetterling story

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

Sometimes you just have to say “It’s time to move on.”

The plan for a film to examine the Jacob Wetterling abduction is one of those times.

For three years, the producers have filmed key players in the 1989 abduction, including Jacob’s family.

Now they have launched a fundraising campaign to support the next stage of production.

They started a GoFundMe site and they’ve planned a series of events around Minnesota with a goal of raising $60,000 to edit the footage. An event to preview the trailer will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, May 6 at Bad Habit Brewing in St. Joseph. Tickets cost $10 and are available here.

When I supervised reporters and they would pitch story ideas, I would always ask “How does what you are proposing advance the story and increase readers’ understanding?” Would the results justify the time spent reporting and the readers’ time reading?

That question needs to be asked of the filmmakers.

I covered the Wetterling story for 29 years, starting on the October Sunday night he was abducted through last fall’s release of almost 42,000 pages of investigative documents.

In those years, millions of words have been written and perhaps thousands of hours of video have examined every aspect of the case, including in-depth interviews with Jacob’s parents, St. Joseph community members and law enforcement officers.

The most compelling journalism about the case, the botched investigation and its impact on the community is American Public Media’s award-winning podcast series “In the Dark.”

The film documentary team began its work in 2015 before Danny Heinrich, who would eventually admit to Jacob’s abduction and killing, was arrested for possessing child pornography. As part of a plea agreement, on Sept. 1, 2016, Heinrich led investigators to Jacob’s burial site outside Paynesville. Heinrich killed Jacob hours after the abduction.

During Heinrich’s day in court, he revealed many of the heartbreaking details that had been unanswered for decades.

In addition to telling the tale, the filmmakers said they hope to start crucial conversations to end the abuse and exploitation of children.

That’s a noble goal. But there are other ways to reach it. Try giving to one of the many nonprofits such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Or you can support law enforcement and legislative efforts to arrest and prosecute sex traffickers and identify sexual predators.

And you can talk with your own children about how to stay safe by speaking instead of feeling shame and keeping silent.

It’s time to move on from retelling a story that’s shadowed Central Minnesotans for 30 years.

Author: Mike Knaak

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