MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Earlier this month authorities launched a new campaign to try and find out what happened to Jacob Wetterling.
Wetterling was abducted while riding bikes with his brother and friend 25 years ago Wednesday.READ MORE: End Of Federal Eviction Moratorium Won’t Affect Minnesota Renters, State Is On ‘Its Own Timeline’
And while his disappearance remains a mystery, his case has led to changes that now help other missing children.
It is a case that defied logic then and now.
An 11-year-old boy kidnapped at gunpoint as he rode his bike with his brother and friend just after 9 p.m. roughly a half mile from his home in peaceful St. Joseph, Minn.
Aaron Larson and Jacob’s brother Trevor told reporters how the gunmen asked them their ages and then chose Jacob.
“He grabbed Jacob and then he told me to run into the woods as fast as I could or else he’d shoot,” Aaron Larson said.
As a massive search fanned out from the spot where the boys had left their bikes, Patty and Jerrry Wetterling gave the first of what would certainly be thousands of interviews.
The day after the kidnapping Patty Wetterling spoke to WCCO-TV.
“There is no explanation. I don’t feel the anger yet. I just want him home,” Patty Wetterling said.
“Jacob you got to just keep hanging in there and keep the faith. Keep looking to God. You are going to pull through,” Jerry Wetterling said.
Twenty five years later the Wetterlings stood before reporters again, announcing a new billboard campaign featuring pictures of what a computer program believes Jacob would look like now.
At the news conference earlier this month Patty spoke once again on the disappearance of her son.
“We hope for answers. Where are you Jacob?” Patty asked.
In the chasm of a quarter century of leads that have led nowhere, Patty Wetterling has become a national figure in the fight for better laws and resources for missing children and their families.
Four months after Jacob disappeared she founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.
“At the beginning we called it stranger abduction. That is what we thought. We know now statistically it is not usually a total stranger it may well be somebody who is familiar with this community and we need people to come forward,” Patty said earlier this month.
And the push for new leads is focused on the surrounding community.READ MORE: COVID-19 In MN: Health Officials Report 700+ Additional Virus Cases, 5 More Deaths
A new billboard campaign asking for the public’s help is centered in the communities of St. Joseph, Minn., Cold Spring, Minn. and Paynesville, Minn. – a triangle of communities just 20 miles apart.
Six weeks after Jacob was taken the FBI announced they believed Jacob’s kidnapper had struck before. In January 1989, in the nearby town of Cold Spring, a man in a car approached a 12-year-old boy named Jared, kidnapped him and sexually assaulted him.
Jared’s case has also never been solved.
In May he brought WCCO back to the road were his kidnapper let him go.
“I was dropped off and told to run, don’t look back or he would shoot,” Jared said.
Investigators are also taking a fresh look at least six unsolved sexual assaults of boys in nearby Paynesville in 1986 and 1987.
Patty Wetterling only learned about the Paynesville cases last year and believes they could hold the key to Jacob’s case.
Patty told WCCO last spring she believes the cases are connected to Jacob’s case.
But in the frantic weeks and months after Jacob was taken law enforcement never made an appeal for information in the Paynesville cases.
An oversight that Patty said would almost certainly not happen today.
“It was a different world then. We didn’t have the Internet…We worked really hard to make sure that every law enforcement agency had a fax machine, they didn’t even have that at that point,” Patty said.
Back then law enforcement also had no data bases of sex offenders.
There were no amber alerts instantly flashing information.
Today with these advances, some of them shaped by Jacob’s case, 97 percent of missing children come home.
“Jacob, you got to just keep hanging in there and keep the faith. Keep looking to God you are going to pull through,” Jerry Wetterling said in 1989.
“We love you and hold you in our hearts. We will never give up. Please help. Please call 1-800 THE – LOST,” Patty Wetterling said.MORE NEWS: $20K Reward Offered For Info On 2019 Homicide In Maple Grove Park
Again that tip line number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is 1-800-THE- LOST.