While Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been found, there will be no closure for the Wetterlings. Over the weekend news sites and social media have been filled with articles about Jacob Wetterling. Jacob Wetterling’s remains were found this past weekend when the man who is suspected of abducting Jacob led authorities to his remains. I know better, but I looked at the comments. All of the comments were condolences to the family, many of them included the word “closure”. As in “now that he has been found, the family can have some closure”.
There will be no closure for the Wetterlings, or anyone else who suffers such a tragic and senseless act. Closure is a myth. The Wetterlings know what happened to their son, but I’m not sure that’s better than not knowing.
In the days to come we will learn how Jacob died, if he was sexually assaulted, if he was tortured, and how long he may have lived with the monster who abducted him. I spent all weekend thinking about Jacob. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know any of these details. Jacob has always been a happy boy wearing a bright yellow shirt and smiling for the camera. I don’t want to imagine him terrified and cold as he must realize what is going to happen to him.
I don’t want to know and yet I feel it is my duty to know. As a parent, a Minnesotan, a human being, it is our duty to learn the details of Jacob’s death. Not out of morbid curiosity, but as a show of support to his family. We must attempt to carry some of the pain caused by this monster, Danny Heinrich. The Wetterlings have given so much over the years, it is the least we can do.
As I write this there are reports that Danny Heinrich has accepted a plea deal and has given accounts of what happened that day 27 years ago.
The defendant described how he handcuffed Jacob and put him in the passenger seat of his car. Heinrich had a police scanner in his vehicle, and after hearing police respond to the kidnapping he decided he’d better drive back to Paynesville. He recalled Jacob at one point asking him, “What did I do wrong?” He took a series of backroads that wound through small central Minnesota communities until he reached a sewage pond road and drove to a gravel pit by a grove of trees. There, he forced Jacob to disrobe and masturbate him until the boy told Heinrich he was cold.
Jacob asked to be taken home, but Heinrich recalls telling the boy it was too far. On the way back to the car he noticed a police cruiser on the road nearby. Heinrich said he panicked, pulled his revolver and put two rounds inside. “I raised the revolver to his head, clicked once with no bullet in the chamber. Shot him twice after that. ” He admitted firing into the back of Jacob’s head after asking the boy to turn around so he could go to the bathroom.
The details got worse. Heinrich described how Jacob was still crying after the first shot, so he fired again.
Knowing what happened doesn’t make it all better. Finally knowing Jacob won’t be coming home ever, doesn’t provide closure.
As a mother I can only imagine what the Wetterlings are going through now that they do know Jacob will never come home. The constant questioning – Could we have done more?, Could we have prevented this? – those questions will haunt them now as it has these past 27 years.
There will be no closure for the Wetterlings, they’ve just entered a new kind of hell. Now that they know what happened they will likely play out that scene in their imagination when it’s quiet and they are not occupied. I hope they can find the necessary support to help prevent that from happening. As a mother my imagination is vivid. To this day I replay an accident my son had when he was 3 years old. One in which I was not present. I cringe each time because I was not there to prevent it or to comfort him in his pain. I have to actively push the thought out of my head – and it isn’t always easy, in fact it rarely is. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for Jacob’s parents.
We parent differently because of what happened to Jacob. I was 23 when Jacob went missing, I was engage and about to start my own family. In fact a few years later I would meet Patty Wetterling. Her mother was a patient of my father and Patty escorted her mom to the appointments. I worked in his office and was pregnant at the time, I recall marveling at Patty Wetterling’s grace and generosity.
She smiled, she was friendly, she chatted with other patients and the staff. She was not some tragic figure, she had a mission – to find her son – but she also learned that life keeps moving. When the child I was carrying died, I would think often about Patty Wetterling. If she can get through each day, I thought, certainly I can too.
My daughter died of natural causes and yet there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and wonder if there was something I could have done differently to prevent her death. While Patty and Jerry have a deep well of memories to draw from of Jacob, the what-might-have-been probably will always cast a long shadow.
There is no closure, and I’m not sure anyone who loses a child or suffers a similar loss, would want it. Closure might work at the end of a marriage, but I don’t see it as even a desirable thing in this situation. Closure means to let go, to move on and move away. It means forgetting even if the things remembered are excruciatingly painful. As a parent I would want to hold on to all of that, even the horrible things, because that is all that is left.
We don’t have to look for Jacob anymore, maybe that’s what they meant by closure? But the fight isn’t over. The Wetterlings have made many positive changes for families who have children who go missing. They helped create the Amber Alert that has saved so many kids from terrible endings. I assume they will continue with this work even though they no longer have to search for their child.
I hope they can find peace, I hope they will continue to smile and laugh and find joy in this world.