27 years ago, a mother woke up on a typical morning with her all of her children and then went to bed without one of them. Her sons were held up at gunpoint as they biked home from a convenience store by a man who liked to look at and fantasize about kids. On this day, he decided that child pornography would no longer scratch his grotesque itch and he needed to have the real thing. He spotted and stopped these boys on their bikes and picked the perfect one, took him to a remote location, forced him to do sexual favors, and then shot him in the back. For 27 years, his mother held out hope that she would find her boy alive- she prayed for a miracle. No one had seen this tragedy coming and it stuck in the hearts and minds of Minnesotans everywhere.
Fast forward 27 years from the night that no one saw coming and there is another man just like the man who murdered Jacob. He decides that child pornography just isn’t cutting it anymore so he needs to find himself real children to satisfy his need. He posts an ad on Craigslist and a desperate mother answers it looking for love in all of the wrong places. One week into their online relationship and they are madly in love with each other, celebrating their one week anniversary, and promising many more. The townhome that her children resided in and she had with her now estranged husband was promised to this man along with the address and pictures of her daughter.
The lies and manipulation begin and all the red flags are clearly evident. He calls her names and then apologizes- an obvious attempt to control her. He makes her believe that she is nothing and worthless without him and his non-existent fortune and estate that is all hers now. Her worries are washed away and she is falling fast for this man while he secures his place in her home with her two children. His need is getting closer to being met- just a little more patience and control and they are all his.
Once he moves in with the family and forces her to cut ties with everyone she once held dear- another red flag- he sets his sights on the innocent prepubescent female living in his new home. She becomes his obsession and he does everything he can to make her his. She is no longer allowed to call her dad, daddy- only his first name will do because she has a new daddy now. He promises gifts and prosperity as long as he is around and challenges anyone who threatens to get in the way. He declares that he will leave and they will lose everything if he is crossed and instills the fear of God in the children and their mother- in his mind HE is their God.
Following only his gut instinct, their father vows to protect them from the obvious harm they are in. Armed with only his guts and valor, he pushes himself through every single obstacle to make sure his children are safe. After one particular weekend of mother begging her daughter to come home as their new daddy can’t stand to be without her for this long and is promising he will leave that night, a decision is made: they would never see him again at ALL costs.
For 4 months, plenty of heartache, and lots of perseverance, this decision paid off and it seemed like this predator and his submissive partner were moving out of state. Paperwork was signed and filed handing over her rights to the children, a new family would be started thousands of miles away from the children that were left behind. Their father spent plenty of nights lying awake agonizing over whether or not these decisions were in the best interest of his children but one thought back to what his daughter had said about this man living with their mother trying to peer into her bedroom while she was changing, his obsession with her, and the promise that “Even if I go away [to jail], I will always come back for you and when I do, you’ll be older.” He knew in his heart that his choices were correct.
Their mother refused to fight for them and could not establish trust or a relationship with her children at all over this 4 months. She was offered as much time with them as she wanted but, unless her predator was included, she was uninterested in them. Besides, she was moving as soon as she possibly could and that was final.
In the final month before they were set to depart on their journey to make a brand new family, the children’s father began questioning everything that he had done over the last 4 months, panicking that he was the one driving the wedge in between their relationship with their mother. He attempted to reconcile things prior to her leaving despite his instincts and everyone around him telling him it was a very bad idea. He allowed his youngest to spend time around this man unsupervised, allowed his daughter to see him as she wished supervised, and became more open to communication in the interest of doing what is right. Along with this trial came added stress and heartbreak when the children realized that mommy still wouldn’t come around unless HE was included.
On the day they were set to leave to their new state, mother said her goodbyes to her children on the front stoop and walked away to her car where he was waiting. Their dad then picked up the pieces of their shattered hearts that she always left in her wake and assured them that she needed some space and she would come back eventually knowing that her decisions were poor.
That day, he was arrested on the charges of Disseminate Child Pornography. The US Marshalls came barreling down the driveway with their guns drawn and took him away to jail. The same jail that the man who murdered Jacob Wetterling sits today, for virtually the same charges that he was originally apprehended for.
The Wetterling’s never saw it coming but we did. Our story could have ended completely differently if not for the actions that were taken to ensure the safety of those two children and all of the children like them. These kinds of situations are talked about on the news, sensationalized on TV shows and movies, and agonized over after the unthinkable happens. We can do better than this, we are better than this. Mental health is a very real crisis in our world today and we need to come together as a country- as a society- and fight it! During those 8 months the justice system, Child Protective Services, and law enforcement had their hands tied and could not help us until something happened. Why must we wait until something unimaginable happens to step in and help people?
This story is being shared with the permission of the father of the children not to air dirty laundry and draw attention to family skeletons, but to emphasize the importance of following your gut instinct, always. So many people just don’t get involved because it is none of their business. If you see something, hear something, know something, have a feeling or a hunch: SAY SOMETHING. It could mean the difference between life and death, or worse.
I am fortunate enough to share my life with a man who has the courage and the strength to stand up for his children no matter the cost and no matter the obstacle. We still have a long way to go to heal from this mess and we feel as though whenever we take one step forward, we take two steps back but we have faith, hope, and love on our side.
“Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered so much” –Lisa Wingate