Wetterling family: 'Our hearts hurt' for anyone harmed by investigative file's release

Memorial for Jacob Wetterling
Attendants of Jacob Wetterling's memorial service listen below a slideshow of photos of Jacob and his family in the Clemens Fieldhouse at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News

A day before investigators were set to release a massive investigative file on the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, his parents Patty and Jerry Wetterling said it's still "difficult to relive those dark days" after the 11-year-old was kidnapped in rural St. Joseph, Minn.

"With time, our family is healing and getting stronger and we appreciate all of the efforts to make things better for future victims of crime, their families and for all of us," reads the Wetterlings' statement, released through their lawyer Doug Kelley on Tuesday.

Jacob went missing the night of Oct. 22, 1989. His disappearance and killing remained unsolved until September 2016 when Danny Heinrich confessed he was behind the acts that held Minnesota's attention for three decades.

The investigative file into the case was supposed to become public once the case closed, per Minnesota's open records law.

But the Wetterlings fought back, suing Stearns County, which holds the file, because they argued some documents include personal information about their marriage and family.

Media organizations — including MPR News — countered the family in court and argued the documents should become public.

A judge ruled against the Wetterlings in April.

"Our hearts hurt for anyone who is pained or hurt from the release of this file. Clearly, changes are still needed," the Wetterlings said.

Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday morning where he'll share the investigative file and take reporter questions.

Thousands of tips came in during the years-long investigation. Law enforcement didn't publicly identify Heinrich as a person of interest until 2015.

Members of the public and reporters have scrutinized how investigators handled the case, including in season one of the In the Dark podcast, which showed how police failed on some basic practices following a child abduction report.

It's unclear what's in the investigative file expected to come Wednesday morning. However, it will be incomplete. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the Wetterlings' lawsuit and said all federal documents in the file should go back to the FBI, and a judge agreed.

At the end of their statement ahead of the file's release, the Wetterlings also shared advice to honor Jacob's short life, starting with one line: "Hug your children."

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