Patty Wetterling of St. Joseph, Minnesota, celebrated her son Jacob’s 38th birthday last Wednesday, February 17th—but like the past 26 of Jacob’s birthdays, her family celebrated it without him.
“We always have a family dinner and we fix his favorite food, steak,” Patty told ABC News. “We laugh and hug our grandkids and we honor that. There were six us of in this family and we still carry Jacob in our hearts. It’s just what we do.”
On the evening of Oct. 22, 1989, when Jacob Wetterling was 11, he and his brother Trevor, 10, and best friend Aaron, also 11, were riding their bikes home from a convenience store when they were accosted by a masked gunman who forced them to throw their bikes in a ditch and lay face down on the ground. He then asked each of the boys their age. After hearing their responses, he told Trevor to run into the woods and told him not to look back or he would shoot him. He then ordered Aaron to do the same.
As the two boys were running away, they looked back to see the gunman grab Jacob’s arm. When Aaron and Trevor reached the wooded area and looked back once more the gunman and Jacob were nowhere to be seen.
For Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s birthday is surely as momentous a day as the anniversary of his kidnapping. So last week, she published this touching, heartbreaking birthday letter on the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center website to the son she longs to hold in her arms again—a son who, wherever he is, is now 38 years old.
Happy Birthday Jacob!
Birthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight! I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!
I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That’s pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.
My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong…so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.
I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The non-profit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.
And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we’ll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…
Patty’s story, and Jacob’s story resonate with me in two ways: I too, am 38 years old—I cannot imagine having my life stolen away at age 11. And I, too, am the mother of an 11-year-old boy…so Jacob’s story literally makes my blood run cold. Patty, who is a board member of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says she hopes her letter to Jacob helps increase prevention and support for organizations that fight for children.
I had never heard Jacob’s story until last week, and now my prayers are with the Wetterling family—that they would find their son here on earth, or at least find the truth and closure in this case being solved. Thank you Patty, for crusading tirelessly for your son and other missing children.