The message Sunday night, to a community plagued with unanswered questions, was of hope and resilience.
About 150 people, some of them victims in a string of unsolved sexual assaults from nearly three decade ago, gathered in the Paynesville High School auditorium Sunday night to hear from Patty and Jerry Wetterling and other community members, WJON reports.
The Wetterling's son, Jacob, was kidnapped by a masked man with a gun in St. Joseph back in 1989. His family, his friends, and authorities don't know what happened. It was his 37th birthday earlier this year.
The meeting Sunday night, Patty Wetterling told attendees, was to give people a chance to talk to law enforcement and each other about everything that has happened, the St. Cloud Times reports.
Chief: Attacks do not define victims
It all comes in the wake of Danny Heinrich's arrest. He was taken into custody in late October on unrelated child porn charges, and was described as a “person of interest” in Jacob’s disappearance. Heinrich has denied any involvement.
Officials have also linked Heinrich to the January 1989 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 12-year-old Cold Spring boy through DNA, an incident that happened months before Jacob’s abduction. There were reports of several similar unsolved attacks in the Paynesville area around the same time.
"In some bizarre way, Paynesville and St. Joseph have been interconnected through all this," Jerry Wetterling said, according to KARE 11.
Among those that spoke Sunday was Paynesville Police Chief Paul Wegner, who said the attacks do not define the victims as people, and do not define "who we are as a community,” the West Central Tribune reports.
Said Patty Wetterling, according to the Star Tribune: “I want this to be about all of us healing. ... You're not alone, we're not alone."
At one point during the meeting, victims of the attacks were invited to speak and ask questions, the St. Cloud Time reports.
The Wetterlings also asked anyone with information, even seemingly little tips, to come forward, FOX 9 says.
Speaking with media members afterward, Patty Wetterling said they still need answers, the Pioneer Press reports.
"We do not know this man, but many people in that room do," she said. "Are there still leads that are out there?"