Since I was only six years old, the day is completely foggy in my memory, but twenty years ago today, my life changed forever.
My mother is cousins with Patty Wetterling. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Patty's sons and one friend were biking up to a Tom Thumb in their small town of St. Joseph, MN. On a country road, a man stopped the three boys, telling them he had a gun. The man directed the boys to throw their bikes in a ditch, and lay face down in the dirt. The frightened boys obeyed, and when the man demanded Jacob to stand up and come to him, Jacob did so. The man then told the remaining two to run across a field towards trees, and if they turned around while doing so, he would kill Jacob.
Jacob was never seen again.
To this day, the story of Jacob Wetterling sends shivers down my spine, and brings tears to my eyes for many reasons.
With the close family ties I was kept on a very short leash from that day forward. If we went outside to play, one of my parents was always with...even if it was only to play in our front yard.
Looking back, I know my mom tried to shelter me from the horrible happenings of that day. It took me fifteen years to figure out the real story of how Jacob was taken, as all my parents told me as a child was "he was taken by a bad, bad person." I completely respect my parents' attempt to guard my childhood innocence in that way. Instead of attending searches, our family attended benefit concerts which included Jacob's favorite performer, Red Grammer. I remember having to dress up, and sit in an auditorium for what felt like forever. I knew we were there because someone horrible had taken a little boy that I was related to, but I still didn't "get it" (with good reason, of course).
Every single body that turned up in the news, found floating in the Mississippi River, made those around me whisper "I bet you that's Jacob" or "there's no WAY he's still alive". I scowled at the negativity. I would quickly respond with a mature "STOP IT! YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!"...which would lead into the grade school "oh yeah?", and I'd go "YEAH! You need to stop saying that...did you KNOW I WAS RELATED TO HIM?!"...For most kids, that was enough to shut them up, and for others, I'd have to explain the relation.
Jacob's grandmother, who I knew as Aunt Eunie (pronounced U-knee), was a Saint Paul native. Soon after her grandson was taken, she displayed a large sign made up of white christmas lights that read "Jacobs Hope", that was designed to change to "Jacobs Home" once he was found. The sign was displayed in her front window for years, but unfortunately, Aunt Eunie did not live to see the day of Jacob's safe return home.
As the years have passed, the pain I've felt for the Wetterling family, and all they've been put through has intensified. Maybe it's become more real because I couldn't imagine having the strength of Patty if something happened to little man. Maybe I've become more aware of the physically nauseating reality of losing a child (...?).
Seeing how Patty and her family have persevered, and become active in educating the public inspires me. Instead of wallowing, and letting Jacob's disappearance define her (them), she has been speaking publicly about child sex offenders, and informing the community in Minnesota, and across the nation, about how to talk with your children about strangers. She is, without a doubt, one of my heroes.
Today, I invite you to share in my hope.
My hope for Jacob, and his safe return home.
My hope for other families who have been tormented from childhood abductions.
My hope for a brighter tomorrow.
If, by some miraculous chance, you know details to assist in unfolding the mystery of Jacob's disappearance, please please PLEASE contact your local authorities.
3 days ago