To say there were mixed emotions yesterday would be a massive understatement.
I mean, on a day we send our most prized possessions to schools around our communities, we’re subjected to the story we never wanted to hear. The story for which we wanted such a different ending. The story revolving around a family we’ve all come to respect and admire.
So as a man who lived with us here in Wright County – who worked near us in Buffalo. Who could see a school from his place of employment. Who subjected another boy to something so heinous and unspeakable. A man who was caught with wretched images on his home computer. As this man told us what he did to Jacob Wetterling. What he said to him. What he thought. How he killed an 11-year-old boy in cold blood. This man admitted it in front of Patty and Jerry, right there, in court. As he did that, our blood boiled. And our hearts broke one more time.
And then we lashed out.
Twenty years? It’s not fair. We’ve been suffering days and nights for more than 25. What about Patty? What about all of those porch lights and white ribbons and the posters we’ve seen every year since that October night in 1989? A 20 year sentence for child porn? That’s it?
It’s understandable. I’m a father of a 10-year-old boy. “Almost 10 and a half,” he’ll tell me.
Can I picture him there, in that car, wondering “What did I do wrong?” You know I can. And it moves me to tears.
But put yourself in Patty’s shoes, as I’m sure you have before, one more time. Take the stance of Jerry, the strong and silent father, just for a couple of minutes. And, as Atticus Finch once told us, walk around a while in their shoes.
Imagine if a prosecutor said, yes, in fact, we’re going to charge Danny Heinrich, this man who many consider a monster, in a court of law. We are going to point to the evidence. We’re going to get him. We’re going to put him away.
But, you see, without the deal that Patty and Jerry accepted – that they HAD to accept so they could finally know where poor Jacob was after all of these years – we have no ending to this story. We’re still wondering. Danny Heinrich was going to sit in jail, regardless. The child pornography charges would have put him away for many years.
However, with this deal struck by US Attorneys and both the families of Jacob and the other child raped and traumatized by Danny Heinrich years ago, we know.
So we swallow the bitter pill. Twenty years. Yes, it stinks. We cringe at the thoughts of Jacob that night, and we grieve all over again. We know, now. We have an ending. Closure? Not really. But it’s an ending to this mystery that has captivated so many for so long.
And while the hope we have for Jacob coming home alive is gone – because, as Patty said, “to us, he was alive, until we knew,” – and the hope we have for Alayna Ertl has been dashed, and the hope we have for others who have gone missing only to be found lifeless again and again dies with them. The hope we have for so many others who are missing can’t die. It has to press on. Just like Patty and Jerry. You breathe. You light a candle. You cry. And then you find a way to get up the next morning and breathe again.
That hope will burn in memory of Jacob, and Alayna, and so many others. It will burn for those still missing. And we will never forget.