Recently our family learned what happened to my brother Jacob. On October 22nd, 1989, Danny Heinrich shot and killed him after he kidnapped and sexually molested him, my little brother who was kind and gentle to everyone he met.
The entire dynamic of having a brother was taken away. Losing Jacob was hard enough, but for this man to hold this secret for almost 27 years and continue to be free is, as Jacob would say, entirely not fair. I live close to Paynesville, and as much as my parents, family and friends tried to take away my fear, I still had the nightmare of not only having a gun pulled on me, but also having a huge weight of guilt because that night I was the one that pushed for us to bike to the store.
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It is not normal to avoid sleep-overs at friends’ houses because it so happened to be on the 22nd of August, and that in your little boy mind had — that the monster that took your brother is going to do it again to you. It is not normal for your entire identity to be stolen away and to be transformed into Jacob’s brother. It is not normal to have nightmares and night terrors about that night, but this time in your dreams, you are given the choice that it could be you or one of the other friends you were with, and you wake up screaming, scared and ashamed because you chose not to be taken.
He was Rachel's firstborn and Jacob's eleventh son
I left the state. I left the country. I just wanted to be gone. I just wanted to be Jacob’s best friend again. I couldn’t take being the kid who left Jacob. The choices that Daniel Heinrich made that night caused all of that. He took a beautiful, innocent life and attempted to ruin so many more. Because of this, I believe he should spend the rest of his life in prison. He is correct. He is just a man, an evil man that should be gone forever. I say, “Attempted to ruin so many more lives,” because he did not win. Evil does not win. He took Jacob from us that night but can never take away his spirit, his soul, his kindness that lives and carries on in so many people here today. In eleven years, I think Jacob taught us all so much about life, how to make a difference, how to be happy, how to make others happy. I still believe in this.
Jacob | [ j o y . t h e . c u r i o u s ] - Joy Baker - Writer, …
I hated it. I hated how I left him. I was Jacob’s best friend, who became the kid who was with Jacob. To hear the kid who was with Jacob meant in my mind the kid who left Jacob. I heard this everywhere I went every day. It caused me to push people away, to be scared, to cry. I just wanted Jacob to come home so we could be best friends again, so his family could be happy, to stop the pain. On every October 22nd since 1989, I couldn’t handle the guilt. I felt miserable going to the Wetterlings because Jacob should be there with them, always holding back an apology because I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry that I’m still here that, that the wrong choice was made that night.
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In the beginning, I said 20 years was a significant number because this is how long it took me to come to terms with my guilt. This is how long it took me to realize that I didn’t have a choice that night, to realize that it wasn’t me that should be — should have been taken instead of Jacob. It was none of us. We were just kids who had no control over an evil man with a gun. After 20 years, I re-found the Jacob that I had in me before he was taken. I found the joy in life, the happiness that he always had in him. I realized that it was okay for me to be happy. Jacob would want me to be happy and to enjoy life. I realized it was okay for me to just be me, the Jacob — to be the Jacob — the me that Jacob loved, to not be the kid who left Jacob, but to be Jacob’s best friend.