Jacob Wetterling had twinkling eyes, a genuine smile and was nice to everyone at school. He loved the Minnesota Vikings, going fishing and playing hockey. He loved playing the board game Guacamole! He sneezed when he looked at the sun.
The summer before he disappeared in 1989, before a masked gunman stepped out of the woods on a dark rural road near his house in St. Joseph and took him, the 11-year-old boy was learning to water ski.
During the eulogy at Jacob's memorial service Sunday at the College of St. Benedict, Jacob's cousin Allen Overturf shared stories and memories from friends and family members. Many, he said, had not been shared publicly before.
Stories about how Jacob liked to eat a "big glob of peanut butter" with his breakfast cereal, how he scored a goal during a hockey game in St. Cloud and continued skating around the rink with his arms and hockey stick raised high - even after the ensuing face-off - and how he learned to read on a family car trip to visit his paternal grandparents in Iowa.
After he read Dr. Seuss' "Hop On Pop" - in its entirety, all by himself - Overturf said his mother, Patty, congratulated him and asked if he wanted to read it again.
"Nope. I got it," Jacob replied.
Once, on a fishing trip with his father Jerry Wetterling, his younger brother Trevor and his cousin Kevin, Jacob brought along a small box of candy. "The candy was called Nerds," Overturf said. "While they fished, Jacob opened the box of candy, shook it to make a little noise and offered to share it. As he shared, he would hold out his box of Nerds and say, 'Want some Kevins?' He kept shaking that box of Nerds all day ... saying, 'Who wants some more Kevins?' "
As he spoke to a crowd of more than 2,500 people in the Clemens Field House and in a nearby simulcast location, Overturf said the family is just now coming to terms with thinking about Jacob in the past.
"I guess, for us, planning for the future, rather than talking about Jacob in the past, was our way to keep his hope alive for all these years," he said.
The service, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, was filled with music, prayer and readings from the Baha'i faith. Among the dignitaries who attended were Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. A private family service and burial was held Friday.
The public service started with a slideshow of dozens of snapshots of Jacob Wetterling as a baby, toddler and young boy: perching on top of a piano with his big sister; sleeping with his Raggedy Andy doll; sitting in a garden pot; posing with Oliver, the family dog.
In others, he shows off a new birthday bike, models silly sunglasses, holds up a prized fish and sleeps curled up with his younger brother.
The slideshow ended with three well-known photos: Jacob dressed in his red soccer jersey with No. 11 on the back; Jacob in a blue mesh shirt astride a horse, and Jacob wearing a bright smile and a yellow T-shirt in his last school photo.
As the St. John's Boys' Choir sang "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem," friends and family members lit 11 candles on the stage to symbolize the 11 principles that the Wetterlings are encouraging people to live by. They include: be fair, be kind, be understanding, be honest and be joyful.
Surrounded by bouquets of flowers on stage, Jerry Wetterling asked law enforcement officials, active and retired, to stand and be recognized. He then asked volunteers who searched for Jacob to do the same. Finally, he asked "anyone who has ever said a prayer or sent a positive thought" to the family to stand. By the end, everyone was on their feet.
Patty Wetterling told the crowd that the family would not have survived the past 27 years "without the love and support of all of you."
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"Every lead that has ever been investigated, every parent who has been out there searching, we're still with you," she said. "Every child who has had the courage to come forward and report their own abuse, every prayer, every candle lit, every flower, every porch light, every hug, every kind note, each and every one has provided us with the courage to move forward and to fight for Jacob - and the world that he knew and believed in. Our hope and prayers and love go out to those families who are still searching. We won't give up, ever. Jacob, we will always carry you in our hearts, and our love for you will never die."
College of St. Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton opened the service by recalling how the St. Joseph community "linked arms" to search for Jacob after his disappearance.
"Since those early fragile moments, our community and our hearts have expanded due to our shared love for Jacob Wetterling," she said. "Today, we gather as a local, regional, national and global community for remembrance, hope and healing."
Earlier this month, Danny Heinrich, 53, of Annandale confessed in U.S. District Court to abducting, assaulting and murdering Jacob on Oct. 22, 1989. He led authorities to the boy's remains in a pasture outside Paynesville, Minn., and will spend 20 years in prison on a child-pornography charge.
Hinton closed the service by thanking the Wetterlings for "allowing us to be together as a community as we collectively work to not only remember, but to heal and find peace."
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She then invited all those in attendance to gather on the mall outside the Field House "and heed Patty's advice to us all: Be with friends, create joy and eat ice cream." Volunteers handed out ice-cream bars to people as they left the service.
Among those who gathered outside were Vern and Lea Iverson of Elk River, longtime family friends of the Wetterlings.
"I feel Jacob is happy," Lea Iverson said. "We believe in the next world. Jacob is there, and I feel he is relieved. His soul is relieved that his parents aren't still looking, waiting, hoping and suffering. I feel a calm about this. I think there's a calm for Patty and Jerry now, too, that they can - I don't mean move on, because you never move on - but you can start doing the things you need to do in this life, instead of just focusing on trying to find him."
Jerry and Patty Wetterlings' work on behalf of missing and exploited children will live on long after they are gone, Vern Iverson said. The Wetterlings founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, which works to help communities and families prevent child exploitation, and Patty Wetterling has become a national advocate for children.
"Look what Patty and Jerry have done in the name of Jacob," Vern Iverson said. "That legacy that will live on forever. I mean, you have the Amber alert system, you have the sexual-registry system, you have the little photographs that they take for kids at school and put on cards each year. Twenty-seven years ago, we didn't have that."
Elizabeth Hillstrom didn't know Jacob Wetterling or his family, but she got up at 5 a.m. Sunday to drive from her house in St. Louis Park to attend the memorial service. She was first in line when the doors opened.
"I felt like I needed to be here," said Hillstrom, 40, a teacher at Edina High School. "I was 13 when Jacob was taken. He's been part of my life for 27 years - through high school, college, a marriage, the birth of my (8-year-old) son, a divorce and my 15-year career as a teacher. When I heard the news, I was stunned. I was just shocked. For a good week, I was just numb. It was hard to go to work. It was hard to have conversations with people who didn't feel the same way I did. I wasn't expecting to have such a strong reaction.
"I never expected him to be found. Ever," said Hillstrom. "Losing a child has to be the worst thing that you could ever experience as a parent - except for not knowing what happened to a child. I think that is the one thing that is worse - not knowing. I don't know how Mrs. Wetterling and her family survived and endured not knowing."
Former Prioress S. Ephrem Hollerman, of the Saint Benedict's Monastery, said Jacob has been on her prayer list since the moment she learned of his disappearance.
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"We hoped that we would be alive to see him alive," Hollerman said. "It is a very deep sorrow on the part of not only our monastic community, but the whole town, the whole surrounding community, anybody who was in this area at the time. Our whole community lost its innocence. It was incredible, unbelievable."
She said the service was a way for the community to come together "to heal, to support one another, to feel the solidarity that is part of our vocation as human beings. In Exodus, God said to Moses and the people: 'I am your God, and you are my people.' I think we as God's people need to gather in solidarity."
David and Linda Francis drove from Stillwater for the service. Their son Jon Francis disappeared while climbing in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains in July 2006; the Francises searched for him for more than a year before mountain guides found his body.
"It's over," Linda Francis said. "He's found, and a mother loses her baby. You have to start from scratch. The healing ... now it can begin. She has her baby back."
Said David Francis: "The resolution, the knowing is so important. We just are so pleased that the Wetterlings have resolution. It's grisly, it's awful, but there is resolution."
Also gathered outside to greet the Wetterlings were Darian Bartos and his 11-year-old daughter Kayte. Bartos, who lives in St. Joseph, was a childhood friend of Jacob and Trevor's. He was tasked with the job of building Jacob's casket.
"Jerry called me and asked if I would mind building something for Jacob, and I said, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes,' " Bartos said. "I built my great-grandmother's casket 10 years ago, and Jerry had remembered that."
Bartos said he used knotty-pine for the body of the casket, white cedar for the trim and red cedar for the handle.
"I'm sad, but I'm happy," he said. "Three weeks ago, when the news broke, the first thing I thought was, 'Well, now he's home. He's actually home. We have answers, and he actually gets to come home.' "