Updated: 12:47 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m.
About 2,800 people turned out Sunday to pay final respects to Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old whose fate hung in limbo for 27 years until his abductor led authorities to the boy's remains earlier this month.
The service was also widely available on various media outlets and online.
"I was hoping for a different outcome," said Donna Stoppelman, who used to babysit Jacob. "It's closure in some respects, but it's never closure for the family."
Though few of the mourners likely knew Jacob personally, as Stoppelmman did, his image and the story of his abduction became well known far beyond central Minnesota. His mother, Patty Wetterling, became a prominent advocate for children's safety, and in 1994 Congress passed a crime bill that included the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sex Offender Registration Act, which required states to register and track sex offenders.
Yet even as Jacob became a national symbol for missing children, nowhere was the pain of his abduction more palpable than in and around his hometown, a small community of about 7,000 residents located 75 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.
In remarks that opened the service, College of St. Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton recalled how the St. Joseph community came together to search for Jacob.
"Since those early, fragile moments, our community and our hearts have expanded due to our shared love for Jacob Wetterling," she said. "Today, we gather together, as a local, regional, national and global community, for remembrance, hope and healing."
Hope and healing only became possible a few weeks ago when Danny Heinrich, a man implicated in a similar abduction in the vicinity, confessed to kidnapping Jacob and killing him following a sexual assault. The admission came as part of a plea deal in which Heinrich will be sentenced to 20 years for child pornography.
"We wouldn't have survived the past 27 years without the love and support of all of you," Patty Wetterling told the crowd. "Every prayer, every candle lit, every flower, every porch light, every hug, every kind note — each and every one has provided us with the courage to move forward."
The service featured pictures and videos of Jacob, as well as stories told by his cousin, Allen Overturf, who shared memories of a young Jacob learning to read his first book, Dr. Seuss' "Hop on Pop." Jacob loved guacamole, the Minnesota Vikings and a big glob of peanut butter on his cereal, Overturf said. The crowd laughed as he described how Jacob once continued skating around the rink after scoring a goal, arms raised high even after the ensuing face-off.
"Some of you may wonder why you've never heard these stories before, why even Jacob's closest friends and family members waited until now to share memories of Jacob with each other," Overturf said. "I guess for us, planning for the future rather than talking about Jacob in the past was our way to keep his hope alive all these years."
The service, planned by the Wetterling family, also included a display of 11 candles, a gesture reflecting Jacob's age when he disappeared, as well as a campaign to remember him with 11 virtues.