The Jacob Wetterling abduction

Assault victim hopes for end to Wetterling abduction mystery

Remembering Jacob
Jared Scheierl, now, 39, said for years he had seen similarities between his own harrowing experience in January 1989 and Jacob Wetterling's abduction that October.
Ambar Espinoza | MPR News 2010

A Minnesota man who was sexually assaulted months before the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling said Monday that he hopes the identification of his suspected attacker helps investigators determine what happened to Jacob.

Jared Scheierl was 12 when he was grabbed off the streets of Cold Spring in central Minnesota by a man who forced him into his car and sexually assaulted him in the backseat. After the man threatened to kill him, he let Scheierl out of the car. Nine months later, 11-year-old Jacob was abducted about 10 miles away near his home of St. Joseph and never seen again.

Nearly 27 years later, Scheierl said Daniel James Heinrich's arrest last week was "surreal." Authorities charged Heinrich with five counts of possessing or receiving child pornography Thursday. They also linked him to the attack on Scheierl, saying Heinrich's DNA was found on the sweatshirt Scheierl wore that day, and they named Heinrich a "person of interest" in Jacob's disappearance. Heinrich has not been charged in Jacob's disappearance and can't be charged in Scheierl's assault because the statute of limitations has expired. He has previously denied his involvement in both cases.

"I don't even need a confession," said Scheierl. "My heart still goes out to the Wetterlings. I hope that this leads to some form of conclusion or answers for Jacob."

Heinrich, 52, of Annandale, is being held in the Sherburne County jail and has not responded to a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. Federal authorities say he has denied any involvement in Jacob's disappearance. The public defender listed as Heinrich's attorney didn't respond to a call and email Monday, nor did a second public defender who appeared in court with Heinrich last week.

Heinrich is due back in court Wednesday. Scheierl said he plans to be there.

The AP typically doesn't identify victims of sexual assault, but Scheierl has spoken publicly for years about his case, saying it's helped him cope with the trauma and could help investigators find the attacker and Jacob's kidnapper.

Jacob was riding his bicycle with a brother and a friend when a masked gunman abducted him. Although the kidnapping has generated more than 50,000 leads over the years, the crime remains unsolved and continues to haunt Minnesota law enforcement officers. It spurred new federal laws requiring states to create sex-offender registries. His parents, Patty and Jerry Wetterling, founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, which works to help communities and families prevent child exploitation.

Heinrich was arrested in connection with Scheierl's assault in 1990 but released without being charged. The break in that case came this summer, when state officials tested DNA found on Scheierl's sweatshirt and found a match in Heinrich.

Without commenting directly on the case, The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Forensic science services director Catherine Knutson said Monday DNA testing has "come a long way since 1989."

Scheierl, now, 39, said for years he had seen similarities between his own harrowing experience in January 1989 and Jacob's abduction that October: the threats of being shot and killed, the man's low, gruff voice. But he wondered why he was let go, made to roll in the snow and walk home.

"Why am I here and Jacob isn't?" he asked.