(KMSP) - Jean Wittrock was Jacob Wetterling’s homeroom teacher at North Junior High back in 1989.
“I really didn’t think I would know in my lifetime because he was gone so long,” she said. “It was just incredible.”
In classroom #213, Wittrock vividly recalled every agonizing moment of that school year.
“We kept his spot all year,” Wittrock said. “Any one of us, we’d want people to know they were thinking about us, and [to] not give up hope.”
Now retired, Wittrock remembers her phone ringing on Sunday night, 27 years ago on Oct. 22, 1989.
“Jerry Wetterling called me in the middle of the night and asked me to come to school because I had Jacob’s locker combination […] so they could go through and try to see any clues, any help.”
Wittrock believes the biggest challenge was trying to explain the unimaginable to young children.
“One of the kids in class at the time said, ‘Jacob was so good. I’m awful. I’m bad. It should have been me,’ and the kids felt it should have been someone else, that it shouldn’t have been Jacob,” she said.
At the end of that horrendous 1989-90 school year, Jacob’s class tried to do something positive as they graduated to seventh grade.
They built a garden for him with “Jacob’s tree” as a centerpiece.
Wittrock’s hope is that Jacob’s legacy remains one of hope, something she tried so desperately to instill in people nearly three decades ago.
“All of the schools should embrace Jacob’s 11. We have problems with bullying. If people live those 11, that would be wonderful. [Make it] part of the curriculum, schools and posters,” she said. “That’s what we need.”