Small Town Is Shaken By a Child’s Abduction


(NY Times) ST. JOSEPH, Minn., Oct. 29 — Frightened and puzzled, the children of this small town have been asking their parents, again and again, ”Why?” There are no good answers. One week ago, an 11-year-old boy, Jacob Wetterling, was abducted by a man with a gun. Searchers here have been unable to find any trace of the boy.

This would be a time when children would be inventing Halloween costumes and dreaming about candy. Yet there’s barely a sign of a jack-o’-lantern in St. Joseph. This year, the horrors of Halloween came early, and came true.

St. Joseph is a town of porch swings, stone churches and candy-striped barber poles. The population sign reads 2,994. A Romanticized Place

It is the straightforward, unhurried life that holds such a revered, if romanticized, place in American culture. Heinous violations, like the abduction of a boy on a bicycle, are not supposed to happen anywhere, of course. That it could happen in a place like St. Joe’s is all the more shocking and saddening.

”Now at night, when our dogs bark, we have a different feeling than we did before,” said Donald Holden, as he filled his red pickup truck with gasoline at the Phillips 66 station. ”And you start looking at people suspiciously, wondering what they’re about, what they’re after.”

White ribbons with the message ”Jacob’s hope” are tied to doorknobs, mailboxes, car antennae. And at the steps of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church today, hundreds of balloons bearing that message were released into the air.

Twelve-year-old Jill Ehrlichman, her eyes red from crying, held a bunch of the balloons.

”We’re hoping he’ll see the balloons and know we haven’t stopped looking for him,” she said.

Many of the children say they are frightened that the abductor may strike again. They have told teachers they cannot sleep. Few children are expected to go out on Halloween. ‘Jonathan! Stay Close!’

And everywhere through town, parents and children are joined by hands clapsed tightly.

”Jonathan! Jonathan!” shrieked a young mother, whose child had walked out of her view. ”Stay close!”

Jacob’s parents, Jerry and Patricia Wetterling, say they hope Jacob is alive and well.

”Hope is all we have,” Mrs. Wetterling said. ”This is absolutely the worst experience anybody can ever have. You cannot think of the magnitude.” Mr. Wetterling, 41 years old, is a chiropractor. He has said that he does not think the abduction is connected to his position as president of the St. Cloud chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mrs. Wetterling, 39, is a part-time teacher and president of the P.T.A. at Jacob’s school.

On Sunday morning, all the radio stations in Minnesota played a favorite song of Jacob’s, ”Listen,” sung by Red Grammer. And on Friday, hundreds of townspeople stood together, holding hands, and sang ”Listen.” It has become known as Jacob’s song. Singing and Weeping

As they sang, people wept in one another’s arms.

During the final game of the World Series, an Oakland player, Terry Steinbach, who is from New Ulm, Minn., wore a J for Jacob on his batting helmet.

Local businesses have collected more than $25,000 for a reward. Two anonymous business people in Minneapolis have offered a $100,000 reward.

”If you want money,” said Mrs. Wetterling in a plea to the abductor, ”we’ll get it – no matter how much.”

At a service at the Roman Catholic church, Mr. Wetterling appeared before the congregation and said he had four requests.

”The first three are prayers,” he said. ”The fourth is action.”

But Mrs. Wetterling said she could not attend the church service. ”I cannot imagine a God who would allow this to happen,” she said.

Gov. Rudy Perpich has assigned 200 troops from the National Guard to search the area, which has been home to little crime. No Murder in Memory

”If there was ever a murder here, I don’t remember it,” said Chief Deputy Jim Kustreba of the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.

Friends and relatives were staying with the Wetterlings at their framed cedar home on a wooded lot just outside of town, helping with their three other children, Amy, 13; Trevor, 10, and Carmen, 8.

Trevor had been with Jacob when he was abducted. The boys had gone with a friend to a convenience store, Tom Thumb, about half a mile from home, to rent a videotape.

Trevor said the abductor told Jacob to stay still, then ordered the other boys to run into the woods or he would shoot them. He wore a mask and gloves and was dressed in black.

Jacob is 5 feet tall, weighs 75 pounds, has brown hair, blue eyes and a mole on his left cheek. He was wearing a red hockey jacket, an orange vest, blue sweat pants and Nike high-top tennis shoes.

Jacob’s 8-year-old sister, Carmen, wrote a message for her brother that has been placed on the refrigerator door. It awaits his return.

It reads in part: ”You were on the radeo and the News. Evrybuty cry’d very hard. I am glad you are home now.”

New York Times
View Original Article Here

Small Town Is Shaken By a Child’s Abduction
By DIRK JOHNSON, Special to The New York Times
Published: October 30, 1989

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Topics: Jacob Wetterling

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