For almost three decades, Minnesotans kept their porch lights burning, hoping Jacob Wetterling might find his way home. Those hopes were crushed Saturday when they learned that a suspect in the 1989 disappearance had led authorities to the remains of the 11-year-old, whose abduction stunned Minnesotans and changed the way parents watch over their children, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Jacob was snatched off his bike, half a mile from his home, by a masked man with a gun on a dark October night. Danny Heinrich, a suspect first questioned shortly after his disappearance and now in federal custody on child pornography charges, gave investigators the information that led to the boy’s hidden grave.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said dental records confirmed that the remains were Jacob’s. Heinrich, 53, led authorities to the remains late last week. Federal and state investigators did not say what prompted Heinrich, who has been in federal custody since last October, to disclose what happened to Jacob. His abduction shattered the state’s sense of safety. He became the face of thousands of other missing and exploited children, and his disappearance became the driving force behind the creation of national databases for registered sex offenders. The search for Jacob spanned not only decades but also continents, as investigators chased 50,000 leads. In the end, the search ended in the same county where it began.