McFeely: Jacob has been found and all that’s left to hope for is peace

FARGO -- Our hearts break, again. And this idea of "closure?" Overrated. We finally know what happened to Jacob Wetterling and even after all these years, even after we suspected this might have been the outcome all along, we hurt one more time. ...

Daniel James Heinrich has been charged in a child pornography investigation has been called a person of interest in the disappearance of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling of St. Joseph, Minn., in 1989.

FARGO -- Our hearts break, again.

And this idea of “closure?” Overrated.

We finally know what happened to Jacob Wetterling and even after all these years, even after we suspected this might have been the outcome all along, we hurt one more time.

The discovery of Jacob’s remains means, with finality, that he is dead. There always was a sliver of optimism among the ocean of realism that he might somehow be alive. With confirmation of his death, it means there will be no miraculous happy ending to the saga of Jacob Wetterling. He won’t be walking into his mother’s and father’s house to tears of joy, there won’t be screaming headlines about reuniting with his family. This isn’t Hollywood, we’ve been reminded again.

Hope died when Jacob was found. Maybe that’s why the news grinds on us so much. There was always hope, no matter how misplaced. Now even that has been stolen.


It’s been nearly 27 years since Jacob was abducted at gunpoint along a rural road in central Minnesota. There have been millions of words written and spoken about the case. None have been more poignant than these five repeated through the years by his mother, Patty Wetterling:

“What if he comes home?”

She would say them every time somebody asked why her family hadn’t moved out of its house near St. Joseph.

Why would the Wetterlings want to stay in the place with so many memories? How is it possible to get through a day living in the home where Jacob lived, where his bedroom was, where he played and sat at the dinner table and got ready for school each morning and celebrated holidays? Why would anybody want to relive that every day of their lives?

“What if he comes home?” Patty Wetterling would ask.

She wouldn’t drop the family’s land-line phone or change its number for similar reasons, even through all the painful prank calls and messages left on their answering machine.

What if he tries to call home?

Now we know there was no chance of that. Jacob was abducted and likely died shortly afterward. Then his body was buried in central Minnesota, not far from home, where it has remained. The heartlessness of that truth hurts, too. An innocent 11-year-old boy kidnapped, probably sexually abused, murdered and buried in the dirt.


There is nothing Hollywood about that, either. No dramatic escape, no magical storyline. It’s just brutal. Cold. Evil.

The suspect is Danny Heinrich, the man who was arrested last fall on child pornography charges – but who authorities clearly believed was responsible for Jacob’s abduction. That was a remarkable chain of events leading to hope – there’s that word again – we might finally discover what really happened to Wetterling.

Federal and state law-enforcement authorities stood before the world last October and basically said Heinrich abducted Jacob, but they just couldn’t come up with evidence to prove it. They might have done so to rustle up anybody who had information and needed prodding to step forward. They might have done so to show Heinrich how serious they were about nailing him for the abduction.

Whatever the motivation, it worked. News reports have Heinrich leading authorities to the spot where Jacob’s body was buried. Case closed, apparently.

It’s the day we’ve been waiting 27 years for, the day when one of the most visible child-abduction case of our lifetimes was solved. We know what happened to Jacob Wetterling.

There is no satisfaction. There is only more heartbreak because the ending isn’t what we wanted, even if it’s what we fully expected.

That’s why this talk of closure is so much bunk. The finding of Jacob’s body isn’t a line of demarcation indicating pain yesterday and relief today. We’re not happier today than we were yesterday because Jacob has been found. We cannot close a door on grief and walk away.

Presumably the same can be said for Jacob’s family and friends. While there is talk about them “finally getting closure,” what does that mean? It might mean the final dash of hope, a glorious dream with the best ending imaginable, has been taken away. They had to know the long odds of Jacob being alive, but even if it was one in a billion, they had the one. Now they don’t.


Remember, Patty Wetterling never moved from the house in which Jacob lived and never changed the phone number from the one he knew. She still believed.

“What if he comes home?”

Jacob is home. All we can hope for now is peace.

EDS: If any further news breaks in the Wetterling case, this column may be changed. Please monitor FNS communication for updates.

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