After 27 years, one of the most perplexing child abduction cases has finally been solved.
Last week, in front of a packed courtroom, 53-year-old Danny Heinrich confessed to abducting and killing 11-year-old Minnesota boy, Jacob Wetterling. Heinrich pleaded guilty to the heinous crime after the state promised to drop multiple counts of child pornography. In addition to his confession, he led authorities to the remains which were buried at a farm field in a shallow grave near Paynesville, Minnesota.
Heinrich shared the disturbing details of that horrific night with the courtroom which included Jacob’s parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling.
October 22, 1989 will forever be a painful reminder for Minnesota residents and people all over the world. It is the crime that changed the way parents feel about letting their children roam their own neighborhoods.
On a dark October night, Jacob, his best friend and older brother came face-to-face with a madman who would later be known as Daniel James Heinrich. Biking home after renting a movie at the local convenience store, only about a quarter of a mile from the Wetterling home, the boys were approached by an unidentified man wearing a mask, dark clothing and carrying a gun. He ordered the three boys to lie face down in a ditch and proceeded to ask the boys their age. He told Jacob’s brother and friend to run away and don’t look back or they would be killed. Sadly, he did not allow Jacob to go with them. Heinrich then threw Jacob in the car and handcuffed him, drove to a secluded country road and assaulted him. Terrified, Jacob asked if he could go home but Henrich told him he could not take him all the way home. Jacob started to cry and allegedly asked “What did I do wrong?”
Just then a police car passed by and Heinrich was terrified that he would be spotted. He then loaded his .38 revolver and fired two shots into the back of Jacob’s head, killing him. Fox News reported that after going back home for several hours, Heinrich returned to bury the body. A year later, he noticed that the remains had become partially visible, so he picked up what he could and buried them at another site. 27 years later, this would be the spot Heinrich would lead authorities to.
Although the Wetterlings and those who loved Jacob will never have “closure,” there is some good that has come out of this tragedy. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (The Wetterling Act) is a law that requires all states to have a sex offender and crimes against children registry in place.
Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, is now a U.S. advocate of children’s safety and chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She is a strong advocate for the protection of children from abduction and abuse.