Wetterlings praise newspapers and encourage openness
I can’t begin to imagine the pain and horror Patty and Jerry Wetterling have experienced over the 28 years. It’s almost incomprehensible.
On Friday during the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual convention, I had the opportunity to hear the Wetterlings speak about the tragedy that has gripped the state for almost three decades. The remains of their son, Jacob, were found last year near Paynesville after his killer led authorities to the scene.
The Wetterlings had many grizzled newspaper publishers and editors, including myself, in tears as they recounted the days leading up to Jacob’s discovery. They had held out hope that Jacob would be found alive, but an evil man dashed any hope of that happening.
In jail for unrelated porn charges, Danny Heinrich admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Jacob before stashing his body where no one ever found him. Heinrich is now facing 20 years in federal prison on the porn charges. Desperate for answers, the Wetterlings agreed to a plea bargain with Heinrich that kept him from facing murder charges.
Patty and Jerry told about the years of dealing with police investigators, prosecutors and other people in their quest for finding Jacob. Patty signaled out a number of people who helped solve the decades old mystery, including Janelle Kendall, the Stearns County Attorney who grew up in Blooming Prairie. Kendall was instrumental in bringing closure to the case. And Patty alluded to the fact that it wasn’t easy for Kendall, who made the decision to give up prosecutorial rights with Heinrich on the more serious charges.
Perhaps the most stunning part of the message from the Wetterlings for me was how they credited the media, especially newspapers, with helping solve their son’s disappearance. For 27 years, the Wetterlings had a close relationship with the media as they searched for answers.
Patty spoke about how investigators found going through newspaper archives at a Paynesville newspaper especially helpful.
Said Patty: “I doubt they are going to have tweet archives. They don’t pay attention to the accuracy and the details.”
As she spoke to hundreds of newspaper professionals, Patty said, “We have been blessed with attention to detail and accuracy.”
Jerry added, “I want to echo a thank you for all the work you and your colleagues do out there in the trenches.”
Patty offered some sound advice during her emotional speech. She said parents need to make sure their boys do not grow up into men who abuse youths. “We need men to grow up and say, ‘We don’t do this here.’”
They referred to the Minnesota media as “the truth tellers.”
And perhaps even a greater compliment came when Patty said, “You were respectful. You were honest, You have a high bar here. I will continue to scream about that. We need you. We needed you. That is why we wanted to come today and thank you.”
After so much experience with the media, Patty offered this to others: Be honest, know what you want to say and talk to reporters.
That’s certainly helpful advice for those who may someday end up with the media in hot pursuit of their story.