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In speech to media, Wetterlings praise reporting and advise people in spotlight to be honest, open

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Patty Wetterling tells Minnesota Newspaper Association members Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, that newspapers were important to solving the disappearance of her son, Jacob, 27 years ago. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)2 / 4
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar talks to Patty and Jerry Wetterling Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. The Wetterlings talked to the Minnesota Newspaper Association about the abduction of their son, Jacob, 27 years ago. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)3 / 4
Patty and Jerry Wetterling accept applause from a Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, Minnesota Newspaper Association audience. They recounted the final dayts before authorities solved the disappearance of their son, Jacob. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)4 / 4

BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—Be honest. Know what you want to say. Talk to reporters.

With that, Patty and Jerry Wetterling laid out their secret to dealing with the media in the 27 years between when their

son, Jacob, disappeared and his remains were found last fall in one of the country's must publicized child disappearances.

The couple credited the media, especially newspapers, with helping solve their son's case. Patty Wetterling said that investigators found going through newspaper archives at the Paynesville Press especially helpful.

"I doubt they are going to have tweet archives," Wetterling said. "They don't pay attention to the accuracy and the details."

Looking at hundreds of newspaper workers on Friday, Jan. 27, during the 150th annual Minnesota Newspaper Association convention, she added: "We have been blessed with attention to detail and accuracy."

She urged newspaper officials to keep paper records.

"I want to echo a thank you for all of the work you and your colleagues do out there in the trenches," Jerry Wetterling said.

A key to solving the case came after men who were victims of other crimes when they were young came forward and said they thought their abuser sounded like the same one who eventually became known as Jacob Wetterling's kidnapper, according to publisher and editor Michael Jacobson of the Paynesville Press. Investigators went through the newspaper's archives, finding other crimes they linked to Danny Heinrich, who long had been a suspect in another case.

The Press and other Minnesota newspapers investigated the Wetterling case, and Jacobson said he doubts it would have been solved without media attention.

However, Jacobson said, he does not pat himself on the back. "We all look at what we could have done better."

Jacob Wetterling, from St. Joseph, Minn., disappeared near his home on Oct. 22, 1989. He was 11 years old.

The abduction remained a mystery until last year, In the meantime Patty Wetterling, in particular, became a face of a movement to prevent child kidnapping and to find missing children.

Last summer, during eight days of what the Wetterlings described as intense behind-the-scene efforts, the boy's remains were found on Sept. 1 near Paynesville. A few days later, Heinrich confessed to the kidnapping.

Patty Wetterling said that bones found one day were tested and found to have come from an animal. Another trip by investigators to the site Heinrich said he buried the body revealed the boy's bones and jacket.

Patty Wetterling said parents need to make sure their boys do not grow up into men who abuse youths. "We need men to grow up and say, 'We don't do this here.'"

She also said that people should not live in fear of abductions. "You are more likely to get hit by lightning than be abducted."

To the newspaper crowd, she had nothing but praise.

"You are the truth tellers," she said.

Jerry Wetterling said he could recall of just one bad experience with the media. That was when CBS Morning News conducted what he called a thorough hour-long interview, with good questions, but just a single short soundbite ended up on the air.

Patty Wetterling said the Minnesota media did well.

"You were respectful," she said. "You were honest. You have high bar here. I will continue to scream about that. We need you. We needed you. That is why we wanted to come today and thank you."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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