Jacob’s light a lasting legacy
For 27 years we hoped.
For 27 years we prayed.
For 27 years we feared the likely outcome.
Last week that fear was confirmed when a Paynesville man, long a suspect in the case, admitted to authorities that in October 1989 he abducted and later killed Jacob Wetterling.
That day, week and month nearly three decades ago became a moment frozen in time for Minnesotans. All of us were shocked and horrified that such a predator could exist in a place where children should be safe.
It was and continues to be an awful feeling. This beautiful child, with nothing but opportunity, potential and light–was suddenly gone. Our hearts had been pierced and the ache would not go away.
If ever there was doubt about the existence of evil in this world, its presence was confirmed in this case.
For 27 years Patty and Jerry Wetterling sought tirelessly to find their child. They worked with law enforcement, media and experts in the field. They even pleaded with his unknown abductor, more than once, to give them back their child. But he did not.
For many Minnesotans it was a life-changing event. A sense of security, innocence and community was tested. How could this have happened here, in a small town in rural Minnesota? None of it made sense, but all of it made us carefully analyze our surroundings and alter the way we protected our children. We had to think about where predators might lurk and teach our kids to avoid such situations.
That one man could create so much destruction and suspicion for so many people was hard to comprehend, but he did. For several months, perhaps years, it was hard to trust and harder still to allow our kids to be out of our sight for any amount of time.
For years we pictured two potential paths as it related to Jacob Wetterling. One, although deeply disturbing, had Jacob somehow managing to survive his ordeal and ending up in some strange place where he did not know how to get home or how to reach his parents. We desperately wanted to believe he was alive and experiencing some sort of life.
The other path seemed more logical and likely, but we pushed it from our thoughts. It was just too difficult to imagine what he may have been subjected to and the likely conclusion. This path was just too hard to accept.
So we hoped and we prayed. And we existed in this changed nation, where strangers kidnap an estimated 100 children every year.
But despite all that was taken from us that October night in 1989, we also gained so much. We learned from the Wetterlings just how deep love runs. No matter what form of darkness invades our world; there is always reason for hope and an endless supply of support from those around us. The Wetterlings and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center have brought awareness and tireless energy to the prevention of child maltreatment and exploitation. Their efforts have helped prevent future maltreatment through training and education. They have saved several children from unknown abuse and potential homicides.
For the rest of Minnesota, the news that Jacob has finally been found will not remove him from our memories. His story and his life are just too powerful to be forgotten because we now know what happened that night.
Like all our children, he is loved. He is the child we never held, but is protected always in our hearts.
His lasting legacy is his smile, his joy and his innocence. It is his gift to each of us. Our responsibility to Jacob is to extend that love and appreciation for life to those we meet.
That is Jacob’s ultimate triumph and a light that can never be extinguished.
Thank you, Jacob. Finally, you are home.
Keith Anderson is director of news for ECM Publishers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.