Why the Wetterling case is newsworthy

“What makes the Jacob Wetterling story so newsworthy?” a colleague rightly asked today.

Jacob Wetterling is, I replied, the poster child for missing children. He, like Adam Walsh, are also the two cases that have changed the nature of social interaction in Minnesota and elsewhere. The threat of stranger abductions has led us to keep a tighter rein on our kids. Visit any basketball court, baseball diamond, or tennis court in the middle of the day in a park these days, and you’ll probably find yourself with some alone time. Is it a justified precaution? The numbers say “no,” but who wants their kid to be the exception?

Twenty-two kids are on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children list of missing children from Minnesota. Eleven of them are believed to have been taken by their mother or father. A handful of the people on the list were in their late teens and are believed to have run away.

In addition to Jacob Wetterling, only five on the list were 15 or younger:

Kevin Ayotte disappeared from Sugarbush in 1982. He was 3.

Amy Pagnac was 13 when she was last seen at an Osseo gas station.

Corrine Erstad was 5 when she went missing. A man was charged with her murder. Her blood-stained sundress was found in a storage he rented, but after a 5 1/2 month trial, a jury acquitted the man. Her body has not been found despite searches of a marsh in Oakdale.

Aaron Anderson disappeared from Pine City when he was 2.

Leanna Warner was 5 when last seen in Chisholm.

What makes Jacob Wetterling’s situation newsworthy is that stranger abductions in Minnesota almost never happen. And if it turns out a neighbor was involved in Wetterling’s disappearance, it didn’t happen to him, either.

  • Heather

    Also, Johnny Gosch. Seven years earlier, in Des Moines.

  • Kassie

    And there are witnesses to his kidnapping and it was by gunpoint.

    It is one of those things that most people my age will never forget. I am just one year older than him. If it could happen to him, it could have happened to me. A good friend in college was very good friends with him and her dad was considered a suspect at one time. It is very personal.

    And, now that Patty Wetterling is a public figure, it makes it also newsworthy.

  • Laurel

    I went to middle through high school with his little sister. I think this one touched the community because it’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and there was no doubt that he was 1. abducted (he didn’t just disappear) and 2. the abductor had the prepared for lethal violence by bringing a gun. His mother, like John Walsh, also became a public figure trying to make changes. I remember seeing his face papered everywhere as a kid, and the sketch of the abductor. Very very sad.

  • Susan

    Maybe the definition of “stranger abduction” is not the same for everyone, but if the child does not know his/her abductor, I would think this would be called a stranger abduction, regardless of whether the abductor is an adult neighbor who knew who the child was.

  • Momkat

    Plus he was a mile from his home to add to parents’ fear–not even safe in one’s neighborhood.

  • Erica

    I too am only one year older and have thought about Jacob every year since he went missing. Bob, your colleague really should have known better than to ask why this was a newsworthy story- how can it NOT be? For those of us in our early to mid thirties, Jacob’s story is embedded in our very soul. We all want Jacob to come home.

  • Bob Collins

    Please don’t mistake asking the question of whether a story is newsworthy with an assertion that it’s not. Good journalists should ALWAYS ask the question on every story.

  • Melissa

    I was close to his age when he was taken and he was taken in circumstances that I would have thought were safe, so for the first time I understood how uncontrollable life could be, but more than anything the reason that I have never forgotten Jacob Wetterling is because his mother never stopped hoping he might still come home and for years that made me hope against hope.

    I can tell she still wants to believe he might be somewhere out there and it breaks my heart even while I desperately wish for one last childhood wish to come true.

  • Karen

    Any child missing is news worthy. Children are our future; they are our hope for a better life. If just one child goes missing everyone should do what they can to find them and bring them home. Children are not dogs or cats; they are human beings who deserve to live a life free from fear and free from evil. Anyone that harms a child should be held accountable to the greatest extent of the law and perhaps even more so. Jacob is not just a poster child for missing children, he is someone’s son, nephew, cousin, brother, and his family more then anyone has the right to know what happened to him. Without the news we the public would not be able to empathize with the family and would not get involved in helping in his return. We would be a careless and heartless society, but as long as the media brings attention to the story our prayers will continue and our support for the Wetterling family will continue. It is the media’s ethical responsibility to keep the story “alive” for the sake of all missing children.

  • Royce Shupe

    Not newsworthy. It’s mindless hysteria. I was dumbfounded this morning this morning on hearing the suspicious tone in Cathy Wurzer’s voice when she said the father of the farm was “alone” at the time of the abduction and “his pootprints ended at the driveway.” It seemed like she was openly speculating on the guilt of some random guy

  • jim h

    Why is it newsworthy? I’m stunned that someone in the news business would even ask that question. Is it because there’s no obvious tie-in to the Twins? No red/blue political division to maximize?

    For anyone old enough to remember the case, a re-opening of it is riveting.

  • Chris Thomas

    This story is newsworthy for a number of reasons, including to bring attention to the subject of how media is used in this kind of a case. True, the widespread attention has led to a number of beneficial changes in legislation that have been for the greater good of families. But I do wonder if the case hit the national press so fast that emotion got in the way of a thorough investigation? Spreading the word far and wide may’ve overwhelmed attention to details and clues much closer to home. Hopefully, for the sake of all involved, we’ll find out soon and justice will prevail.

  • Margaret st Paul

    Why don’t you go ask his Mother ,Father,Brother,Sisters why it’s news worthy!