Wetterlings searching for ‘that little piece’

Published 7:17 am Monday, December 7, 2015

By Mary Divine

St. Paul Pioneer Press

PAYNESVILLE, Minn. — Law enforcement officials and Patty and Jerry Wetterling on Sunday night pleaded with residents of Paynesville to come forward with information about the man who has been named as a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling.

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Daniel James Heinrich, a former Paynesville resident, was arrested Oct. 28, and he is being investigated in connection with the abduction of Jacob, who was 11 when he was taken in 1989. Although Heinrich has not been charged in connection with that case, the 52-year-old Annandale man has been charged in U.S. District Court in St. Paul with five counts of child-pornography possession in another case.

“We’ve got information, but I don’t think we have it all yet,” Jerry Wetterling said at a community meeting at Paynesville Area High School. “If somebody has it, that little piece, that can kind of complete the puzzle, we really need it. Or if you think you know somebody who might know information, let’s try and get that to us.”

Patty Wetterling told the crowd that Heinrich will be locked up for a long time, so people could share tips and not “be worried about him getting out.”

The meeting, which was hosted by the Wetterlings, drew about 100 people, including at least two survivors of the “Paynesville Assault Cluster,” eight attacks on seven young boys who from 1986 to 1988 in the community about 85 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

Authorities found dozens of pornographic images of young boys during a search of Heinrich’s house and garage for evidence related to the 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of 12-year-old Jared Scheierl in Cold Spring, Minn., nine months before Jacob’s abduction.

Scheierl has spoken publicly for years about his case, saying it has helped him cope with the trauma and could help investigators find the attacker and Jacob’s kidnapper.

Scheierl and the other survivors declined to talk to reporters after the hourlong meeting. Part of the meeting was closed to reporters so the survivors and their families could talk privately with the Wetterlings and law enforcement officials.

During the public portion of the meeting, Capt. Pam Jensen of the Stearns County sheriff’s office urged people in the audience to come forward if they have information about Heinrich.

“If you had a personal relationship, know about vehicles, party spots, anything of that nature regarding Danny Heinrich, or if you have any other information about other cases, please come forward,” Jensen said. “We’ll talk to you about those also because those cases don’t get solved unless people like you come forward. I know it’s a hard topic, but it’s important that we’re all on the same page.”

The Wetterlings handed out tip sheets at the meeting that were titled “Paynesville: Moving Forward” and included information about how to share information. The Wetterlings said they would read all the comments.

Jerry Wetterling said he and Patty have been “in a waiting game” since Heinrich was named a person of interest in their son’s case.

“We’re kind of waiting to see how things start to flow with the court situation,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting impatiently, like all of you are, and I think the people around the state and even around the country — trying to put an end to the question: Where’s Jacob? That’s really what we’ve been waiting for all this time.”

The couple was “hit in the face” when they learned Heinrich was going to be arrested, he said.

“We had, like, 24-hour notice that this was going to happen, that this arrest was going to be made,” he said. “It really kind of backhanded us, and I know your community was also backhanded. All of a sudden, you’ve got cameras in town and people stopping at the cafe and this and that. It seems crazy, but in some bizarre way, Paynesville and St. Joe have kind of been interconnected because of this, and we all know we’re going to come out better for it on the end of it.”