Jacob Wetterling: Thousands At Funeral, 27 Years After Kidnapping

In early September, detectives found the remains of 12-year-old Jacob Wetterling, in a field close to his Minnesota home. It’s been nearly 27 years since his 1989 disappearance, but it didn’t stop thousands of people from attending his funeral and paying condolences to his family on Sunday.

People reports that around 2,800 people attended Jacob’s funeral, held in St. Joseph, Minnesota, at the College of St. Benedict. Another 600 people watched from a nearby area, while mourners lined up to pay their respects. Some people stood in line more than an hour before the services started, including Lezlee Bergwall, who said she wanted to attend to show the family appreciation.

“(We) just wanted to be here to show them how much we appreciate them.”

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The family was happily overwhelmed with the turnout, including Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, who tearfully told the mourners that their compassion held her up throughout the years her son was missing.

“We wouldn’t have survived the past 27 years without the love and support of all of you. Every prayer, every candle lit, every flower, every porch light, every hug, every kind note – each and every one has provided us with the courage to move forward.”

Patty also directed a prayer directly to Jacob, calling out to him to remember that he’ll always be loved.

“Jacob, we will always carry you in our hearts. And our love for you will never die.”

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Another attendee of the funeral, Jacob’s cousin, Allen Oventurf, told reporters he still remembered Jacob’s smile, “twinkling eyes,” and his love for the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings.

KARE 11 reports that the funeral featured a boys’ choir, a playing of “Listen” by Red Grammer (Jacob’s favorite song), and a Native American prayer.

Jacob went missing on October 22, 1989, while riding his bike home from a local convenience store. His brother and friend accompanied him to the store to rent a movie, while his parents attended a party. He asked his parent’s permission before leaving and promised to be careful. Although his mother indicated she “had a bad feeling” about letting the boys ride their bikes alone in the evening, she finally relented after Jacob’s father, Jerry Wetterling, relented.

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The boys were only a short distance from home when, around 9:00 p.m., a masked man brandishing a gun stopped them. He forced Jacob, his younger brother, Trevor Wetterling, and his friend, Aaron Larson, to get off of their bikes and lay face down in a field. The stranger then, one by one, told each boy to stand. He first let the youngest boy, Trevor, go, but told him to keep running without looking back.

The masked man, later identified as Danny Heinrich, glared at both Aaron and Jacob. He let Aaron go next, warning him that if he turned and looked back, he’d get shot. Heinrich kept Jacob, and it would be the last time anyone knew of his whereabouts until 26 years later.

Jacob's parents, Jerry and Patty, in 1989, shortly after he went missing. [Photo by Jim Mone/AP]

Heinrich, currently incarcerated and under investigation for child pornography charges, told the FBI where they could find Jacob’s remains. He likely confessed as part of a plea deal for his current charges. He’s in jail with no bond, awaiting his court trial.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Gov. Dayton issued a proclamation to make October 22 the official “Jacob Wetterling Day” in Minnesota. In a statement released on Sunday, the governor said,

“Today is a very hard day for the Wetterling family and for all Minnesotans. Jacob’s tragedy profoundly affected all of us. On behalf of all Minnesotans, I extend my deepest condolences to the Wetterling family.”

[Featured Image by the St. Joseph Police Department]