ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Almost 27 years after the abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota, a long trail of investigation appears to be near its end.
The Stearns County Sheriff's Office confirmed Saturday evening that Wetterling's remains have been found in central Minnesota. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner and a forensic dentist identified Wetterling's remains earlier in the day.
Investigators and prosecutors are "reviewing and evaluating new evidence" in the investigation and more detailed information is expected to be provided early next week, according to the sheriff's office.
A “person of interest” in the case cooperated in the investigation, according to reports that first came from KSTP-TV, Minneapolis.
Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, told KARE-TV, Minneapolis, Saturday morning that her son's remains have been found. “All I can confirm is that Jacob has been found and our hearts are broken. I am not responding to any media yet as I have no words.”
Jacob was kidnapped shortly after 9 p.m. on the night of Oct. 22, 1989, after he and his brother, Trevor, 10, and best friend, Aaron Larson, 11, rode their bikes to a Tom Thumb store not far from the family’s rural home in St. Joseph to rent a video.
As they headed home, a masked man with a gun appeared on the remote dirt road leading to the Wetterling house, told the boys to lie face down in a nearby ditch and asked each his age. He then ordered Trevor and Aaron to run to the woods and not look back. When the boys did, Jacob and the masked man were gone.
No one has ever been charged in the case.
In a message to the St. Cloud Times, Patty Wetterling said that she and her family "are heartsick" and referred media to a statement posted to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center website.
That statement said in part: “We are in deep grief. We didn't want Jacob's story to end this way. ... The Wetterlings had a choice to walk into bitterness and anger or to walk into a light of what could be, a light of hope. Their choice changed the world. ... Our hearts are heavy, but we are being held up by all of the people who have been a part of making Jacob's Hope a light that will never be extinguished. ... Jacob, you are loved.”
The “person of interest” in the case, Danny Heinrich, has been in federal custody since late October, after authorities arrested him on charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. Some of the material featured children under the age of 12.
The child pornography case against Heinrich began building last summer, while authorities searched his home looking for evidence in Jacob’s abduction and a separate kidnapping and sexual assault involving a 12-year-old boy in nearby Cold Spring nine months before Jacob disappeared.
Heinrich has been held in Sherburne County Jail without bail while his federal case progresses.
Heinrich, who lived in Paynesville, about 30 miles southwest of St. Joseph, at the time of Jacob’s abduction, was first questioned by investigators soon after it happened, and several times in 1990. He said at that time that he was not involved in the case, authorities have said.
Authorities said that when they searched Heinrich’s home last summer, they found nothing to connect him to Jacob.
At that time, however, they found 19 three-ring binders containing numerous images of child pornography, authorities said. Authorities said the binders included pictures of some known child victims. Child pornography also was found on Heinrich’s computer hard drive, authorities said.
When authorities arrived at Heinrich’s house with a search warrant, he described himself as “a dirty old man,” but denied creating pornography or sharing it with anyone, according to a federal agent who testified in court.
None of the charges allege that Heinrich distributed pornography.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement Saturday evening that said he was offering his love and support "as the Wetterling family finally brings their son home to rest."
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who worked with Patty Wetterling on legislation related to missing children, referred to Patty as a friend.
"I have seen firsthand her extraordinary advocacy for children and how she has turned her grief into action," Klobuchar said in a statement. "The Wetterling family and all who knew and loved Jacob are in our hearts today.”
Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold and County Attorney Janelle Kendall declined to comment Saturday morning. Bechtold is the lead investigator in the Wetterling case. Messages left for Sheriff John Sanner were not immediately returned.
The FBI would not confirm any details regarding the matter, said Kyle Loven, chief division counsel at the Minneapolis office.