In late December of 1989, I hopped on a Northwest flight from California to Wisconsin to spend the Christmas holidays with my family. I was a high school counselor at the time, living in California and loving it. I wasn’t married at the time, just a single guy, and I used to spend Christmas and part of the summer back home. I still call Wisconsin “Back Home.” Think I always will.
Killing some time, I snatched a magazine from the pocket in front of me and opened it to an article about an eleven year old boy, Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted at gunpoint by a man wearing a mask and carrying a gun, and in front of his best friend, Aaron and his little brother, Trevor in late October of 1989.
The three boys had been on their way home from a convenient store after buying some candy and renting a video. The Wetterling house was just down a dirt-gravel road nestled amongst other homes surrounded by woods and farmland in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Peaceful. Quaint. Americana.
The man with the gun ordered the boys off their bikes and to lay down in the ditch. Trevor, only nine at that time, was ordered to run into the field and to not look back or he’d be shot. The man gave the same order to Aaron. When Aaron caught up to Trevor, both boys turned around and didn’t see anyone. Not the man in a mask with a gun. Not a car. Not Jacob.
I’m not sure why this story affected me the way it did. Perhaps like Jacob, I grew up in the country in the Midwest, though I was born and raised in Wisconsin. Perhaps like Jacob, I liked football and when I was growing up, like Jacob, I wanted to be a football player. Not sure what the reason was, but this story affected me. Still does.
I spent the holidays with my family, but Jacob’s story stayed with me. I ended up contacting the Jacob Wetterling Foundation and offering my services. I studied and researched and ended up giving workshops to parents, to students, to teachers and community organizations on behalf of the foundation and mostly, on behalf of kids. I became friends with the Wetterling family.
I met my wife, Kim, and started a family. I found that I couldn’t give those talks anymore, because instead of some “faceless” child, I pictured my own son, Wil, and my own daughters, Hannah and Emily.
Still, the story of Jacob Wetterling stayed with me. For twenty-seven years, Jacob’s story stayed with me.
I ended up writing four books on human trafficking: Taking Lives (the prequel to the Lives Trilogy), Stolen Lives, Shattered Lives, and Splintered Lives. I dedicated the first book, Taking Lives, to Jacob and to all missing children. I wrote these books to bring to light an aspect of ugliness in our society where children are used and abused by adults who are known and unknown to kids, and who are sometimes trusted by parents and children they end up abusing.
You see, Jacob was Taken from his family. He didn’t go willingly. Not at all. Jacob’s life was Stolen from him. His childhood. Growing up. Becoming a young man. Starting his own family. And the Wetterling family was Shattered. How could it not be? Their child was Taken. Their child was Stolen from them.
Through all of this, what I admire most about Jerry and Patty Wetterling was that instead of giving into hate and despair, instead of giving into bitterness, they founded a foundation that educates parents and children, the public and lawmakers about the evil of human trafficking and child sexual abuse. The Jacob Wetterling Foundation was built on hope that someday, Jacob and other missing kids would be brought home. Home to their families. Home to their loved ones. They lobbied for child safety and a law was passed that carries Jacob’s name. So much good and positive energy was generated from such an ugly situation and circumstance.
And this past weekend, Jacob’s remains were found in the same county in which he lived and in which he was Taken. A man who preyed on children, a monster, led authorities to the spot where they found Jacob.
For all these years, from 1989 to just this past weekend, there were only questions and theories mixed in with the prayers and hopes of so many. Now, Jacob’s story has an end. In so many ways, it is unsatisfying. The ending wasn’t what any of us had hoped for. The ending wasn’t something that one would find in a Disney movie. The stories of the sexually abused and missing children rarely, if ever, are. All we are left with is the hope that there might be some peace and the hope that this will never happen again. Never happen again. Ever!
Something to think about . . . And, pray for!
Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!
To My Readers:
Please feel free to connect with me at:
Twitter at @jrlewisauthor
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If you like to read thriller/mystery, check out:
Book One of the Lives Trilogy, Stolen Lives:
Two thirteen year old boys are abducted off a safe suburban street. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents have 24 hours to find them or they’ll end up like all the others- dead! They have no leads, no clues, and nothing to go on. And the possibility exists that one of his team members might be involved. http://tinyurl.com/Stolen-Lives-J-Lewis
Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives:
Six men escaped and are out for revenge. The boys, recently freed from captivity, are in danger and so are their families, but they don’t know it. The FBI has no clues, no leads, and nothing to go on and because of that, cannot protect them. http://tinyurl.com/Shattered-Lives-J-Lewis
Book Three of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives:
The FBI knows a 14 year old boy has a price on his head, but he and his family don’t. With no leads and with nothing to go on, the FBI gambles and sets up the boy and his family as bait in order to catch three dangerous and desperate men with absolutely nothing to lose.
The Lives Trilogy Prequel, Taking Lives:FBI Agent Pete Kelliher and his partner search for the clues behind the bodies of six boys left in various and remote parts of the country. Even though they don’t know one another, the lives of FBI Kelliher, 11 year old Brett McGovern, and 11 year old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread that Pete Kelliher holds in his hand. The three of them are on a collision course and when that happens, their lives are in jeopardy as each search for a way out. http://tinyurl.com/Taking-Lives-J-Lewis