GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Officials have confirmed the remains of Jacob Wetterling have been found, nearly 27 years after his disappearance.
The Stearns County Sheriff's Office says the Ramsey County Medical Examiner confirmed remains that were discovered are that of Wetterling. They say authorities are reviewing new evidence in the case and expect to provide more information early next week. They did not say where exactly the remains were found.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office today confirms that Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been located. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner and a forensic odontologist identified the remains as Wetterling’s earlier today. Additional DNA testing will be performed at the BCA. The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the FBI, the Stearns County Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office are currently in the process of reviewing and evaluating new evidence in the Jacob Wetterling investigation. Authorities expect to be in a position to provide more detailed information early next week. We are asking for your patience and respect for the Wetterling family’s privacy until that time.
Earlier on Saturday, Patty Wetterling confirmed that news to KARE 11's Caroline Lowe via text saying, "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.”
Sources tell KARE 11 a "person of interest" in the Wetterling case, Danny Heinrich, led investigators to the spot where Jacob's remains were found. Still, there have not been any charges filed in Wetterling's case.
Patty Wetterling took to Twitter Saturday afternoon saying, "Our family is drawing strength from all your love & support."
Our family is drawing strength from all your love & support. We're struggling with words at this time. Thank you for your hope. #jacobshope— Patricia Wetterling (@pattywetterling) September 3, 2016
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center released a statement on its Facebook page saying, "We are in deep grief. We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way ... 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. It shines on in a different way. We are, and we will continue to be, Jacob’s Hope."
Wetterling disappeared in October of 1989 after he was on a bike ride home from a convenience store near his home. Wetterling, who was 11 years old at the time, was kidnapped by an armed masked man who approached him, his brother and a friend on a rural Stearns County road. The man threatened the other two boys at gunpoint and told them to run into the woods and never look back -- or they would be shot.
When the boys did, both Jacob and the masked man were gone.
Despite an intensive investigation and non-stop efforts by Patty Wetterling and her husband Jerry to keep Jacob's case in the public eye, he has never been found -- until this possible development.
Authorities arrested 53-year-old Heinrich of Annandale last fall, and at that time, declared him a "person of interest" in the Wetterling abduction. They recovered 19 three-ring binders of child pornography, and a DNA sample tying Heinrich to the kidnapping and sexual assault of another Stearns County boy from the same time period of Jacob's abduction. No charges can be filed in that case, however, as the statute of limitations has passed.
David Heinrich, Danny's brother, told Lowe that he learned about Wetterling's story Saturday morning.
"I want the Wetterlings to know I had no idea," a very emotional David Heinrich said to Lowe. "My prayers are with them. I am happy for them that they know, not that he’s passed, but at least they have closure."
Danny Heinrich remains incarcerated, awaiting trial next month on child pornography charges.
Heinrich lived in Paynesville, about 30 miles southwest of Wetterling's hometown of St. Joseph. At the time of Jacob’s abduction, he was first questioned by investigators 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.
Last October that DNA evidence found at Heinrich's property conclusively linked Heinrich to the January 1989 abduction and assault on Jared Scheierl. All along, investigators have believed the Wetterling and Scheierl abduction cases may be linked.
Saturday morning, Scheierl told KARE 11's Karla Hult, "My heart goes out to the Wetterling family in all of this.”
Dan Rassier, a Cold Springs music teacher and neighbor to the Wetterling family, told Lowe on Saturday the news of Wetterling's remains brings mixed emotions.
“It’s a very sad situation, and I feel for the Wetterling family," he told Lowe. "It’s a miracle they found his remains, but I’ve always hoped that Jacob would be found alive.”
Rassier came under a cloud of unwanted attention when authorities dug up his family farm and searched the farmhouse and as well as Rassier's bedroom, looking for information in the Wetterling case. The night the masked gunman took Jacob, it all happened near the Rassier's mailbox.
"I had no idea what was happening up by the mailbox," Rassier said in 2010, in a two-part interview with KARE's Julie Nelson.
Still, he was named a "person of interest" and has long maintained his innocence for decades. Rassier was home when Jacob went missing but told Nelson, he had "absolutely nothing to do with the disappearance."
Rassier said he was interrogated more times than he can remember.