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Patty Wetterling says she won’t be silent, tells community they will be heard

PAYNESVILLE -- After nearly 30 years of silence and suffering in quiet pain, the community of Paynesville was told Sunday that the "heinous, unforgivable acts" of young boys being sexually assaulted here in the late 1980s will never happen again.

2187038+Patty Wetterling.jpg
FORUM NEWS SERVICE Patty Wetterling, the mother of Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted near his home in rural St. Joseph in 1989, speaks in Paynesville Sunday evening.

PAYNESVILLE -- After nearly 30 years of silence and suffering in quiet pain, the community of Paynesville was told Sunday that the "heinous, unforgivable acts" of young boys being sexually assaulted here in the late 1980s will never happen again.

The attacks “do not define who you are as a person and who we are as a community,” said Paynesville Police Chief Paul Wegner.

Wegner was speaking to the nearly 150 people who attended a community meeting at the high school auditorium, including some of the victims of those attacks.

Back then, their reports of being pulled off their bicycles and off the streets and molested by a man -- a stranger -- were not taken seriously and were never solved.

"They weren't heard years ago, but they will be today," said Patty Wetterling, whose son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989 when the 11-year-old was riding bicycle with a brother and friend down a quiet road near his family’s rural St. Joseph home.

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Wetterling and her husband, Jerry, have spent the past 26 years looking for Jacob and authorities have been looking for the man who may have abducted him.

The case took an abrupt turn this fall when Daniel James Heinrich, 52, was arrested on serious child pornorgraphy charges.

He was also labeled as a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Jacob and could be linked to other assaults of young boys in Stearns County, including Paynesville.

Heinrich, who was living in Annandale when he was arrested, was living in Paynesville during the time when Jacob disappeared.

From 1986-88 in Paynesville -- about a half-an-hour drive from where Jacob was abducted -- there were eight unsolved cases of young boys being molested by a man.

And just nine months before Jacob disappeared, Jared Scheierl -- who was 12 years old at the time -- was abducted by a man in nearby Cold Spring, sexually assaulted but then released.

Recent DNA tests have linked Heinrich to the assault of Scheierl, who has spoken publicly about his assault.

Wetterling, along with New London blogger Joy Baker who publicly linked the Wetterling case with the Paynesville cases, organized the community meeting as a way to let the victims and the community have a chance to express their concerns and perhaps offer tips and leads to help solve the case.

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The news media were asked to leave the auditorium during the community comments, but Patty Wetterling said she used the meeting as an opportunity to thank the victims “who had come forward very bravely” to talk about their experiences.

“They need to know that they will be heard,” she said. "They got a very bad deal when nobody listened. But it's a new day."

Wetterling said she wanted to engage with the community and ask them and to be “part of the solution.”

She said her family doesn’t know Heinrich “But there are many people in that room that do. There are there still leads that are out there,” she said.

Forms were available for people to fill out if they had a tip or comment to offer.

Every word would be read and every lead followed up on, Wetterling said.

"I refuse to be silenced,” she said. “Because there are way more good people than bad in the world and we need our voices.”

The arrest of Heinrich took the Wetterlings by surprise.

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"There's a lot that fits but there's a lot that doesn't and I'm totally perplexed,” she said of Heinrich.

But Wetterling said she spends “zero time thinking about Danny Heinrich or any of the other suspects. They're not worth my time. I want to find Jacob."

She said Heinrich’s arrest also brought back the trauma to the victims and put the community of Paynesville in the spotlight for historic events that many in town weren’t even aware of.

“We were hurting and they were hurting and the community was hurting so it was like, let's just all hurt together and maybe we can find some resolution together,” said Wetterling. “Because just sitting alone hurting is hard."

Related Topics: PAYNESVILLECRIME
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