Nearly 27 years after Jacob Wetterling went missing near his home in Minnesota, his family and friends finally have answers.
On Tuesday, just days after authorities found and identified the 11-year-old boy’s remains, his killer, Danny James Heinrich, a person of interest in the decades-long cold case, confessed to Wetterling’s murder and sexual assault, the Associated Press reports.
Now with closure, the victim’s family is spreading a message of gratitude for the outpouring of support they have received.
In a Facebook post, Jacob’s siblings Amy, Trevor and Carmen thanked everyone for the support, according to KARE 11. “We feel your love,” they wrote. “We couldn’t have gotten through the past 26 plus years without the support of the people we love. We are, and we will always be, Jacob’s Hope.”
Jacob’s childhood best friend Aaron Larson, who is now married and has children of his own, also shared a heartfelt Facebook post, obtained by CBS Minnesota, describing the influence his childhood best friend has had on his life.
“I feel [Jacob] in my son as we talk about being nice and helpful to the new kids at school because that’s exactly what Jacob was to me in second grade,” Larson wrote. “I feel him in my precious Theodore when he runs up to me and hugs his big strong Da Da because he somehow knows I need it.”
“I feel Jacob and the goodness of him all around me,” he added. “That doesn’t stop. Hope doesn’t stop.”
Jacob’s mother, Patty, also spoke out on social media, tweeting Thursday to express her thanks for the many messages the family has received.
When Jacob went missing in 1989, finding the young boy became a huge effort in Minnesota. Patty and the rest of the Wetterling family held out hope for Jacob’s return, and became staunch advocates to prevent the exploitation of children and pushed for legislation to protect against sex offenders.
In February of this year, on what would have been Jacob’s 38th birthday, Patty penned a letter to her son, telling him how much she loved and missed him. She also wrote a message of support for the agencies and organizations that fight against sexual exploitation and abduction.
“We ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims,” she wrote. “They are there for us. They need our support as well.”