The Monster Down the Road

The town of St. Joseph wouldn’t stand out from dozens of others like it that dot the Minnesota countryside, if it weren’t for a legacy that no town wants, but it’s borne with quiet dignity and grace. It’s 6,600 citizens live amid bucolic, rolling hills 90 min NW of the Twin Cities. 27 years ago, kids ran around after dark on their bikes, people didn’t lock their houses or cars, if your child wasn’t home right away when they were supposed to be no one worried, they were probably just playing down the street. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it all changed.

Three kids riding home from a convenience store where they’d gone to rent a video, two of them brothers, were stopped when a masked gunman came out of a driveway and ordered the boys to throw their bikes into a ditch and lie face down on the ground. He then asked each boy his age. The one brother was told to run toward a nearby wooded area and not look back or else he would be shot. The gunman then demanded to view the faces of the two remaining boys. He picked the other brother, and told his friend to run away and not look back otherwise he would shoot. And with that one senseless act, everything changed for the Wetterling family when 11-year old Jacob was abducted.

For 27 years, his parents and brother have wondered, waited and hoped. Was he alive? Was he dead? What happened? Where was he? Every birthday, holiday, life event that he missed, every dance, date, graduation, wedding that belonged to everyone else was something he wasn’t getting to do. His mother Patty became an accidental advocate for missing and exploited children, starting the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center because she could…because she had to. She was vocal, spoke before congress, in front of celebrities, to the media, anywhere that she could raise awareness and keep Jacob’s face and name in front of people.

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Jacob’s bridge, “The Bridge of Hope”

A bridge in St. Cloud, MN was named after him, The Bridge of Hope, while  #jaccobshope became a familiar hashtag as Twitter entered our social consciousness.

Most of us go through a phase in childhood being fearful of monsters, but we learn that we don’t need to be afraid of them, because monsters aren’t real. Oh it may take time to learn that, our brains need development time to comprehend the logic of this, but eventually we do learn it and they lose their power over us. But with Jacob’s abduction, the monster became all too real, all too close to home for us, and for 27 years, whether you were a parent or not, he was your worst nightmare. With the internet, Jacob became the new “face on the milk carton”. For better or worse, his picture was everywhere, Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 3.05.06 PMand as people prayed for the family, they simultaneously said, “there but for the grace of God…”.  That nameless monster changed how we lived that year – we started locking our doors, demanding our children were home before dark, called us when they left a friend’s house to come home. The phrase “Stranger Danger” took on new meaning and became more sinister than ever before.

The Wetterling family had to endure unimaginable pain through this, during the early days of Jacob’s disappearance when they had to cope with not only the fear of the unknown, but also the suspicion that was cast on them from the media and law enforcement. Could they have had something to do with it? The accusations were, of course, baseless, but to have to try to deal with the loss, not lose your mind, cooperate with law enforcement and the media, and somehow keep your marriage intact, raise your other children, keep running your business successfully and not fall apart? Yet both Patty and Jerry Wetterling did it, always staying strong for their children, and in the hope that they would be a family when Jacob came home.

On September 3, 2016 Jacob Wetterling did come home. Not with the happy, joyful reunion his family had hoped and prayed for, but with tears and sorrow, the location of his remains finally provided to authorities by the one who was for 27 years, faceless and nameless, right before he’s scheduled to start his federal trial on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the Wetterling family must be feeling right now. Relief, sadness, grief to extreme for words, anger…I’m sure they must be a roller coaster of emotions. Yes, they have an answer, resolution after all this time. But it’s not the answer they wanted, not the one they hoped and prayed for, not by a long shot. Seeing the age enhanced photos have to be devastating, knowing that he’ll never look like that. And the media onslaught will start all over again, because we all want to know everything, even though we have no right to, because we all felt like Jacob could be our son, our little brother, our nephew, the neighbor kid. And it wrecked us too. On October 22, 1989, the monster changed all of us, and none of us will ever be the same again.

Danny Heinrich.

That’s the name of the monster. He was even tied to another abduction shortly before Jacob’s that same year, to a child that escaped but by the time they could connect him to the crime,  the statute of limitations expired and he couldn’t be charged, even though DNA tied him directly to the victim. But there was never any evidence linking him to Jacob. Now, with his leading authorities to Jacob’s remains, there is. September 6, 2016 he confessed to abducting, molesting, then killing Jacob. I don’t know how he slept nights for 27 years, knowing a family was devastated. Living less than 30 miles away for all those years, he knew. We all knew the impact it had. Maybe had had his own monsters, perhaps they drove him to do what he did, I don’t know if he’ll tell us or not. It won’t matter anyway. Knowing why won’t bring back our innocence, and it won’t bring back Jacob Wetterling to his family.

I’ve included a link to a Facebook event that’s being shared, asking people to leave their front door and porch lights on through Monday night as a tribute to Jacob. Wherever you are around the world, please take a moment to say a prayer for hope and peace for Patty, Jerry,  Trevor, Carmen and Amy Wetterling.

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Life Lessons

You’d have to be living in another universe lately to not have heard about the Stanford rape case. I am so saddened and horrified by this. The fact that it happened at all is horrific in it’s own right, but the pathetic tripe that has come from both Brock Turner and his father, Dan Turner, make me alternatingly nauseous, furious and just sad. I’m not entirely surprised at the crap from Brock, he’s young and stupid….and by the things he has said publicly, he’s validated just how stupid. Most of us are a product of how we were raised, and it appears that Brock isn’t any different.

His father sent a letter to Judge Persky, asking for leniency since he’s a good kid, never been violent, etc. Now I could understand that if this were about shoplifting, TP’ing public property or some other nuisance crime. But it’s not. This was a horrific crime that violated another individual. If you haven’t read the victim impact statement, please take the time to do so. Her letter is 12 pages long, and I promise it will touch your soul, and speak to you in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible. I didn’t get through the first few paragraphs before I started to cry. This should be mandatory reading for every high school senior and college freshman, man or woman, for anyone who has ever gone to a party and had too much to drink, for everyone in college now and for everyone who thinks “if she isn’t saying ‘no’ then it’s ok” so they understand how wrong that is. Maybe just mandatory for everyone. Period.

Dan Turner is a prime example of what’s wrong with white privilege and why we even have that phrase in our lexicon. Oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of it in this lifetime! But as long as there are fathers like him out there, we can’t. Fathers that write to judges, pleading for leniency for their sons who rape, saying how it’s changed their life, and now he can’t enjoy his rib-eye steak. His life won’t be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. Here’s an eye opener for you Mr. Turner – his victim’s life is forever changed. She probably isn’t eating well or sleeping well, and no longer enjoys her favorite things.  Her life will never be the same, and won’t be the one she dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve either. She’s been violated, first by your son, then by the hospital where she was examined, in court where she testified and had to relive it all over again and be re-raped by your son’s attorney, and finally by you. All because your son didn’t have the balls to say “guilty as charged” and accept the punishment due him, and because he had daddy to ask the judge, a Stanford buddy, to go easy on his little boy. I’m sure you’re heart is breaking too, your life changed in that moment, so did your wife’s. You’ll forever be known as “that rapist’s parents” and that’s probably not how you ever envisioned the rest of your life. You didn’t ask for it, true, but…and here is the caveat…what did you teach your son about women? Did you teach him to respect himself as well as others? To be courageous in the face of fear? To stand up and say “no” when it really counted? Did you teach your son to be the one to stop on his bicycle, when he saw something wrong in an alley and do the unpopular thing, perhaps risking himself, to take care of someone else because it was the right thing to do? Or did you just laugh off his drunken high school escapades with “boys will be boys”? Maybe ground him for a few weeks, or take away the keys to his Beemer? Or perhaps punish him by telling him that he couldn’t go on a trip for spring break? And Mrs. Turner, you’ve been silent on this, I would imagine as a nurse, there has got to be some measure of shame you must be feeling; after all, part of the Nightingale Pledge says “as a missioner of health, I will dedicate myself to devoted service for human welfare.”  Yet your son was anything but, when he acted like an animal. But you helped raise him, did you not? So don’t you also have some accountability in this? I find it hard to believe you sat idly by and never voiced an opinion, never contributed meaningfully to raising your son by teaching him any kind of values, so it logically follows you must have also influenced the person he has become in some way. Did you turn a blind eye to his escapades and just not punish him? Let yourself be convinced by a charming liar that you didn’t see what was really there?

For the sake of the victim, it’s time that Brock Turner stops saying anything at all about himself, unless it’s to say “I have done a horrible wrong to her. I can never make it up to her. ”  Then shut up. And Dan Turner should either say nothing, or if he feels compelled to speak, say only that “my son did a terrible thing and should have accepted his punishment, I’m sorry I interefered”. Then shut up. There is nothing else either of them can say that can justify it, mitigate it, relieve it, erase it or reverse it. Nothing. Don’t get a publicist, don’t have your lawyer speak for you. Just apologize, shut up and for the victim’s sake, go away.