Parents in 1989 Minnesota abduction seek more tips in case
ST. JOSEPH, Minn. (AP) — The parents of a Minnesota boy abducted 26 years ago said Tuesday they have as many questions as everyone else after federal authorities identified a “person of interest” in the case, and they urged people to keep calling in tips that might finally explain what happened to their son.
Patty and Jerry Wetterling gave brief statements outside their Minnesota home, not far from where their 11-year-old son Jacob was abducted in 1989. Daniel James Heinrich, 52, is being held on child pornography charges that stemmed from a search of his home for evidence in Jacob’s disappearance, but authorities have declined to call him a suspect and say he has denied involvement.
“We have as many questions or more as all of you,” Patty Wetterling told a cluster of reporters. “We will let law enforcement and the process continue and will watch impatiently for answers.”
Jerry Wetterling, wearing a button with Jacob’s picture on his lapel, thanked police for still working on the case and the media for continuing to cover it.
“But you know what?” he said. “No one plays a more important role than you everyday citizens in reporting that little piece of information, that when added to other pieces of information will solve the puzzle and bring Jacob home.”
Although Jacob’s kidnapping has generated more than 50,000 leads over the years, the crime remains unsolved and continues to haunt Minnesota law enforcement officers. It spurred new federal laws requiring states to create sex-offender registries. The Wetterlings founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, which works to help communities and families prevent child exploitation, and Patty Wetterling became a national advocate in the cause.
Heinrich, of Annandale, has a court appearance Wednesday. He is being held in the Sherburne County jail and has not responded to a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. Defense attorney Reynaldo Aligada had no comment Tuesday.
Jacob was riding his bicycle with a brother and a friend when a masked gunman abducted him. In seeking a search warrant for Heinrich’s home, investigators cited the abduction and sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy in nearby Stearns County about nine months before Jacob was abducted, as well as a cluster of physical or sexual assaults of boys in nearby Paynesville between 1986 and 1988.
Investigators said they linked Heinrich to the assault of the 12-year-old through DNA testing earlier this year. Heinrich was questioned in that assault but never charged, and the statute of limitations has expired.
Patty Wetterling, who baked chocolate chip cookies for the reporters as they waited for the news conference to begin, spoke passionately for several minutes about making the world a safe place for children. She said she planned to travel Wednesday to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — she chairs its board — and spoke of its work to find children and investigate cases of child pornography.
“We will hope and pray that one day we will have the one answer to the question we’ve asked forever,” she said. “Where is Jacob? Somebody knows, and we are begging for answers.”