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‘Person of interest’ named in Jacob Wetterling disappearance 26 years ago

Twenty-six years after the disappearance of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling brought national media attention to central Minnesota, a person of interest in the case has been named.

  
 

Related: 25 years after Jacob's disappearance, Wetterlings still searching; new billboards show age-enhanced photo

 Authorities say Daniel James Heinrich, 52, of Annandale, was identified by authorities after being the subject of a child pornography investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday a search warrant had been executed at Heinrich’s home seeking evidence in a 1989 kidnapping near Cold Spring and Wetterling’s disappearance on Oct. 22, 1989, near St. Joseph.

Heinrich has not been charged in either of those cases, but does face charges from a long-term child exploitation investigation. Heinrich has denied involvement in the disappearance of Wetterling.

When asked if Heinrich was a suspect in the Wetterling case, Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said “we refer to him as a person of interest.”

Authorities searched Heinrich’s residence on July 28, finding binders that included child pornography.  Authorities said most of the child pornography involved young boys.

They also found knives, a pair of handcuffs next to a roll of duct tape and four tote-style bins full of boys-sized athletic wear.

Also found were videotapes that Heinrich apparently shot of young boys in public.

No images of Jacob Wetterling or the victim in the Cold Spring case were identified in Heinrich’s home.

Heinrich made an initial court appearance on the pornograpy charges Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

Heinrich was investigated closely in the years immediately after the Wetterling abduction, although nothing came of it, Sanner said.

Heinrich lived in Paynesville at the time, about 30 miles away from where Wetterling disappeared,  said Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans.

Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint by a masked man as he, a younger brother and a friend rode bikes near their homes.

Investigators decided to re-examine the Wetterling and Cold Spring cases last year and take another look at Heinrich. DNA evidence turned up in the search tied him to the Cold Spring case, although the statute of limitations has expired.

The Oct. 22, 1989, Wetterling kidnapping launched a massive search and brought national media attention, but Wetterling was not found.

A statement released Thursday from Patty and Jerry Wetterling, Jacob’s parents, said in part:

“The Wetterling family would like to thank all involved in the investigation of Danny Heinrich and his crimes against children. The search for Jacob is an ongoing investigation and we will watch and learn with everyone else. Right now we know what is being reported. We know what you all know.”

Patty Wetterling became a national voice in the search for missing children and serves as chair of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's board of directors.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press and St. Cloud times contributed to this report.

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