ST. JOSEPH, Minn. (KMSP) - When Jacob went missing, the Wetterling family chose hope. On Sunday, nearly three decades later, in a memorial service for the 11-year-old, the Wetterlings gathered with thousands of witnesses to that hope.
Crowds lined up more than half an hour before the service, called “A Community Memorial Service for Jacob Wetterling,” which took place at the College of Saint Benedict, in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Between a picture slide show of Jacob’s eleven years, family members told stories, friends prayed, and musicians and choirs sang.
But first, the Wetterlings wanted to give thanks. Jerry Wetterling, Jacob’s father, asked law enforcement, volunteers, and anyone who has prayed for Jacob to stand. Almost every person in attendance stood to applause. Jacob’s three siblings thanked the community.
“We wouldn’t have survived the last 27 years without the love and support of all of you,” Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, told the full field house. “Every lead that has ever been investigated, for every parent still out there searching, we’re still with you.”
April Lange was just one of the thousands who thought it was important to show support for the Wetterling family.
“When I look at my children today, I think of Jacob and I think of Patty and Jerry,” Lange said. “I thought of them so often in these last few weeks and in moments with my children. Holding them a little closer and making sure
that they know that they're loved and valued.”
Family members told stories about Jacob — many never before heard publicly. Allen Overturf, one of Jacob’s cousins, told the audience “when I found out Jacob was no longer with us, just three weeks ago, this was the first time we were challenged to think about Jacob’s past.”
Overturf said Jacob like peanut butter in his cereal. Jacob sneezed when he looked at the sun. And he had a theatrical side. A video showed Jacob putting on a skit, pretending to be his dad, as part of a Father’s Day present.
The 75-minute ceremony included several songs. Red Grammer, along with the St. John’s Boys’ Choir, sang “Listen,” Jacob’s favorite song. The choir also sang “Pie Jesu” while family and friends lit eleven candles for Jacob. The St. John’s Boys’ Choir joined Douglas Wood to sing “Jacob’s Hope,” a song about Jacob and all missing children. Robert Robinson received a standing ovation for his performance of “You Raise Me Up.”
The service not only provided an opportunity to remember Jacob through tears, and even some laughs, but there was also a chance to practice a few of things the family said would bring them comfort. Those included things like holding hands and eating ice cream. Many gathered on the college’s lawn to enjoy ice cream bars following the service.
“I think it's wonderful,” said Carol Seitzer. “I think it's great that we could come out and have some ice cream with Jacob.”
Toward the end of the service the crowd was asked to answer, “We remember Jacob,” after hearing “so long as we live, he too shall live. He is part of us.” The people who chose hope made a new choice: to remember.