MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Authorities discovered the body of Jacob Wetterling last Saturday on a farm just northeast of Paynesville.
The site is about 25 miles from where Danny Heinrich kidnapped Jacob in St. Joseph, and just a mile-and-a-half from where Heinrich was living. WCCO’s Liz Collin visited the site on Tuesday, where central Minnesota is gathering to grieve.
“It’s heartbreaking. I wish it wouldn’t have ended this way,” Paynesville resident Annette Bratsch said.
Two sisters who didn’t know what else to do stopped along a county road they’ve been down so many times before.
“We kept Jacob in our hearts,” they said.
To say goodbye to a boy they never met but grew to know.
“We kept this story close all these years. It makes you feel like part of the family somehow,” Bratsch said.
Learning now that this is where Jacob’s life would end on that October night in 1989. In court Tuesday, Danny Heinrich said he left St Joseph headed west on Highway 23 to Paynesville and turned on County Road 33, where he approached a field by a grove of trees near a gravel pit and pulled up.
Heinrich says it’s where he sexually assaulted, shot and buried Jacob, only to return a year later to find a partially uncovered grave. Heinrich says he dug up the remains and buried them again across the highway on a farm.
That family is still not ready to reveal Jacob’s final resting place.
“I’ve driven by here so many times it’s just sad,” Paynesville resident Jami Solum said.
Sad that such a heinous act could happen here and that a boy won’t be going home the way we all wished.
“They’ve been working so hard to get him home and at least he’s home. They have him,” Jami said.
There were many people we met in Paynesville too emotional to even talk with us today. They say all of this has put such a stain on their small community. Some people didn’t even want us to use Danny Heinrich’s name after hearing the horrifying details of what happened so close to home 27 years ago.
Danny Heinrich will be formally sentenced in November.
St. Joseph Remembers Jacob Wetterling
The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota said the Wetterling abduction ended an age of innocence, changing how parents raised children. Perhaps nowhere was that more true than in Jacob’s hometown.
For nearly 27 years, neighbors in St. Joseph worried and wondered. They hung white ribbons. They left porch lights on to remember.
On Tuesday, the community wrestled with sadness and anger, but perhaps most of all, disbelief.