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'Person of interest' named in Jacob Wetterling case

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A 52-year-old Annandale man has been named a person of interest in the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling.

Daniel Heinrich was arrested Wednesday and charged with five counts of possessing and receiving child pornography, according to a news release. The charges result from a "long-term child exploitation investigation," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger says.

Officials have also linked him to the January 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 12-year-old Cold Spring boy through DNA. Heinrich was living in the area where several other boys were assaulted during that time.

Investigators have also named Heinrich a "person of interest" in Jacob's case, but he has not been charged in connection with his disappearance and Heinrich has denied any involvement, officials said at a news conference Thursday.

Heinrich was interviewed in 1990 in connection with the Wetterling case, WCCO reports. The investigation into Jacob's disappearance is active and ongoing, officials note.

In a statement, the Wetterling family issued the following plea: "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.

"For 26 long years, we have said that somebody knows something. If you know anything about this man, his ties to St. Joseph in 1989 and his victimization of children ... please call the Stearns County Sheriff's Department at 320-259-3700 or 320-656-6625."

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Case against Heinrich

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Investigators executed a search warrant at Heinrich's home on July 28, 2015, seeking evidence related to the assault in Cold Spring, as well as Jacob's Oct. 22, 1989, abduction in St. Joseph.

While searching the home, officers recovered numerous images of child pornography in 19 three-ring binders and on a computer. They also recovered hours of videos, apparently recorded by Heinrich, that showed neighborhood children delivering newspapers, riding bicycles and playing in public playgrounds.

An article of clothing worn by the boy during the Cold Spring abduction and sexual assault was found to contain Heinrich's DNA after recent testing, investigators say.

Heinrich will not be charged in the Cold Spring case because the statute of limitations has run out, officials said at the news conference.

Jacob's disappearance

Jacob was 11 years old when he went missing. He was biking with his brother and friend on Oct. 22, 1989, in his hometown of St. Joseph when he was kidnapped by a masked man with a gun.

The case was similar to the Cold Spring case, and police say shoe prints from the place where Jacob was abducted may match Heinrich, FOX 9 notes.

His story has captivated Minnesotans and people across the country, and changed the way law enforcement officials search for missing kids across the U.S.

It also prompted Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, to work with families of other missing children. Even after 26 years, she has hope her son will be found.

Since Jacob disappeared, investigators have followed upwards of 50,000 leads, the Star Tribune says. Last year, officials announced they would take another look at whether Jacob's abduction was linked to similar assault cases in Paynesville in the late 1980s, when at least five assaults on teenage boys were reported.

"We will not rest until we bring Jacob home,” Minnesota BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said at the news conference.

Governor Mark Dayton commented on the case at an afternoon press conference, although his knowledge of the case extended as far as the media reports.

"I remember only too well 26 years ago when this occurred. I cannot imagine as a parent the agony of not knowing what happened to my children. I pay above all that someone knows what happened."

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Related

'Person of interest' in Wetterling case files complaint

A man who has been publicly identified as a person of interest in a Minnesota boy's 1989 abduction told The Associated Press that he sent a letter to 14 state officials and agencies, complaining about how he has been treated by law enforcement. In the letter obtained by the AP, Dan Rassier wrote that law officers violated his civil rights and his family's rights and "abused the privileges of their power" in relation to the Jacob Wetterling case.