Search brings mixed emotions for the Wetterlings

Patty Wetterling
Patty Wetterling sits outside her home near St. Joseph, Minn. on July 1, 2010. Law enforcement officials continued searching Thursday at a farm near where her son 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted more than 20 years ago.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

As law enforcement officers searched a farm with a backhoe near where her son disappeared more than 20 years ago, Patty Wetterling said it was heartening to know Jacob Wetterling hasn't been forgotten.

Thursday was the second day officers searched the farm in St. Joseph. A backhoe and dump truck were brought in, and several law enforcement vehicles were on the property.

"Nobody's quit. We're not giving up until we find Jacob, until we find out what happened," Patty Wetterling said.

Eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was last seen on Oct. 22, 1989, near the entrance to the farm's driveway. He was biking home with his brother and a friend when a masked man with a gun stopped them and told them to get off their bikes and lie face down in a ditch.

The man then told Jacob's brother and their friend to run away and not look back. Jacob was never seen again.

After his disappearance, Patty Wetterling became a nationally known child safety advocate. The Jacob Wetterling case led to changes in federal law, including the establishment of state sex offender registries and AMBER alert systems.

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Over the years, Patty and Jerry Wetterling have never given up hope that they would find Jacob alive. The thought that law enforcement officers might be digging for signs of their son has led to mixed emotions, Patty Wetterling said.

Wetterling searfh
Squad cars and other vehicles are parked on a farm near where Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989 in St. Joseph, Minn., Wednesday, June 30, 2010. Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner would not say why police was on the property.
Kimm Anderson/St. Cloud Times via The AP

"I can't be hopeful that they'll find something," she said. "But it is a commitment to be hopeful that we solve this case and I've never wavered in that. This case needs to be solved."

Authorities have been mum about the search at the farm owned by Robert and Rita Rassier. Another family member, Daniel Rassier, is listed at the same address and serves as the St. Joseph treasurer, according to the county's website.

The Rassiers could not be immediately reached for comment.

Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold said Thursday that the search is being conducted under a sealed warrant. He didn't know how long the search would take, but said it would end when authorities are satisfied with what they've found. The FBI and state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were helping with the search.

Patty Wetterling, Jerry Wetterling
In this Aug. 28, 2009 photo, Jerry Wetterling and wife Patty, right, show a photo of their son Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted in October of 1989 in St. Joseph, Minn., and is still missing, in Minneapolis, Minn. Wetterling keeps a scrapbook of news clippings about abducted children being reunited with their families years later. It's a source of hope for Wetterling, whose son, Jacob, was abducted nearly 20 years ago in central Minnesota.
AP Photo/Craig Lassig

Sheriff's deputies blocked the entrance to the farm, which is screened by a large wooded lot that made it difficult for outsiders to see what was happening on the property. Aerial photos shot by the St. Cloud Times showed a tent set up near where a backhoe appeared to be digging.

Patty Wetterling said a lot more is known about child abductions than when her son was abducted. She said she's not surprised authorities were searching so close to where Jacob disappeared, because two-thirds of child kidnappings are carried out by someone who was in the area.

"We know more than we did then, we have better technology than we did then," she said.

Wetterling said the sound of media helicopters hovering overhead was bringing back memories. She said she still has dreams about reuniting with her son. A couple months ago, after Wetterling had hurt her leg, she dreamt that her family had found Jacob and that he had hurt his leg.

"We were pushing him in a wheelchair trying to escape some bad guy," she recalled. "I hadn't seen him for all these years and he looked up and -- it makes me cry -- he said, 'Mom, how'd you get so old?' And I thought, you know, it's been a really long time."

(MPR reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report. Dunbar reported from St. Paul.)