Patty Wetterling touches a big crowd

Urges fight for safety of all children

Patty Wetterling spoke at Springfield Wednesday night, Jan. 11.

SPRINGFIELD — A nationally recognized child abduction and sexual exploitation of children educator spoke with passion to a gym full of people at Springfield High School Wednesday night.

Patty Wetterling, the mother of Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted and murdered at age 11 near their St. Joseph home in 1989, was choked with emotion at times as she described the paths she took and what it was like to wait 27 years to learn the fate of her son.

“I want to fill you with positive information and energy. I refuse to let the man (Danny Heinrichs) who took Jacob have anybody else. He can’t have it,” Wetterling said, her voice wavering with emotion.

A video of Jacob Wetterling talking about what he wanted to do when he grew up was presented on a screen above Patty Wetterling.

“Fear can be debilitating. Knowledge is a much better route to go,” Wetterling said. “Make sure your kids are connected to at least five meaningful adults. Talk to your kids. Civic engagement is a very positive thing to teach kids about the world. It’s about hope and potential. How we raise our children matters.”

She talked about the need for adults, not always parents, to step up and show kids the way.

“It’s about nurturing relationships. This includes men too. It’s what our world is starving for,” Wetterling said. “We all play a role in making things better. It helps to respond to families in crisis. It’s never the children’s fault. Teachers and law enforcement are there to help. Dads, teach your sons to respect women. They’re waiting, watching and listening to you.”

Wetterling said the man who abducted Jacob was abducted by another man who had about 100 victims himself.

She urged parents to pay attention to their children.

“Too many children have fallen into a world of medication, loneliness and emptiness,” Wetterling said. “You model what you want your kids to do and be. They have the right to grow up safe and follow their dreams. Believe in them and give them a sense of self confidence.”

Wetterling, who co-founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center with her husband Jerry, said kids that have survived abductions have taught us a lot.

“One boy that was abducted and later found alive was on a missing children poster that was in a file cabinet drawer in the school he was attending,” Wetterling said. “He was featured on television, a hotel maid recognized him, leading to his recovery. If you see something wrong or unusual, call. An 18-year-old boy saved the lives of two younger boys. If it was your child missing, you’d want somebody standing up for them.”

Wetterling’s efforts led to the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children Sex Offender Registration Act on the state level and was part of the 1994 Federal Crime Bill. She was instrumental in establishing the statewide Minnesota AMBER Plan, among many other accomplishments supporting child safety.

Wetterling currently presents victim impact sessions for investigative strategies for child abduction cases and Amber Alert and technical assistance training.

“We need to promote respectful relationships. Together, we can build a better world for your children,” Wetterling said.

She recognized support for child safety and Jacob’s uniform No. 11 and the 11 positive attributes it stands for — to be fair, kind, understanding, honest, thankful, a good sport, good friend, joyful, generous, gentle with others and positive.

“The Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Wild and the University of Minnesota Gophers football team and many other teams wore number 11 on their uniforms in support of Jacob,” Wetterling said. “The Wild donated $11,000 to our foundation. It brought them some darn good luck this year. They better keep it up.”

For more information, visit www.missingkids.com

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.