Wetterling person of interest Danny Heinrich will remain in custody

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Danny Heinrich. Sherburne County Jail booking photo.

The man named a “person of interest” in the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling made a preliminary court appearance on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul on child porn possession charges, and the judge found probable cause to hold him behind bars.

Danny James Heinrich, 52, was arrested at his home in Annandale, Minn. last Wednesday night for possession of child pornography during a search for evidence related to a separate 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of 12-year-old Jared Scheierl in Cold Spring, Minn., which happened just months before 11-year-old Wetterling’s disappearance. Scheierl attended Wednesday's hearing.

The hearing attracted a large crowd and concluded in about 90 minutes. Judge Leung found probable cause to hold Heinrich behind bars, but no new bombshells in Wetterling's abduction emerged. The judge called details of the child porn allegations and Heinrich's clandestine videotaping of children over the years "chilling context."

DNA evidence linked Heinrich to the Cold Spring kidnapping and sexual assault, which prompted investigators to comb through Heinrich’s home in July and found child porn in 19 three-ring binders and on his computer, tapes of news coverage of Wetterling's disappearance, children's clothing, but said they found no evidence of Wetterling and he is not charged in the case.

FBI special agent Shane Ball testified Wednesday about the criminal complaint detailing those findings from the search of Heinrich's Annandale home.

Wetterlings 'caught off guard'

On Tuesday afternoon, in front of their home in St. Joseph, Patty and Jerry Wetterling addressed the media for the first time since Heinrich was named a person of interest in their son’s abduction.

“We were caught off guard like all of you. We don’t have the answers yet," Patty Wetterling said.

The Wetterlings didn’t say if they think Heinrich could have taken their son, but they thanked law enforcement for their continuing pursuit, Scheierl for speaking of the abuse he endured in Cold Spring, and asked the public to come forward with any information they have. Heinrich is the first person of interest to be named in several years. Scheierl was 12 when he was abducted, sexually assaulted and released, and officials have said the incident was similar to Wetterling's case.

"We still don’t know who took Jacob. We have as many questions or more as all of you [...] but the one question we have said for 26 years is, 'Where’s Jacob? Where is Jacob?' I really believe that somebody in this community knows. We are really, really proud of Jared and all of the victims that came forward in Paynesville. There may be other victims. There may be other stories to share," Wetterling said.

"I refuse to be silenced by this man."