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Missing Boy's Remains Found Nearly 27 Years After Abduction

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Minnesota, there's a new chapter in the kidnapping case that changed the state and led to new laws around the country.

Jacob Wetterling was 11-years old when he was abducted near his home in St. Joseph, Minn. back in October of 1989. He was riding his bike home from a convenience store with his brother and a friend when a masked man with a gun ordered them to the ground. He let two of the boys go, but Jacob was never seen again. For 27 years, Patty and Jerry Wetterling held onto the hope that their son would be found alive.

On Saturday, police announced that they had found his remains.

JENNA ROSS: It's a story that is seared into the memory of most Minnesotans and beyond. People were shocked that such a thing could happen in such a small, seemingly safe town.

CORNISH: That's Jenna Ross. She's a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and has been covering the case.

The kidnapping drew national attention. And Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, became an advocate for child safety and a voice for the families of missing children. Still, the family held out hope for Jacob. And in 2001, Patty Wetterling told NPR that Jacob's abduction affected every part of their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PATTY WETTERLING: Words can't explain. You know, annual events, holidays without him - it's Christmas time, when everybody else's stockings are hung, you know, and his is there, too. It's something that changes your life forever. There's just no other way of putting it.

CORNISH: Patty Wetterling fought for legislation named after Jacob that required states to track sex offenders and paved the way for a national sex offender registry.

Even as the decades pass by, the Wetterlings refuse to give up on the search for their son. They gave hundreds of interviews. Billboards went up with renderings of what Jacob might look like as an adult. Patty Wetterling wrote an open letter to her son's abductor.

Here's reporter Jenna Ross, again.

ROSS: She has been very clear through the years that they have maintained their hope that they would find Jacob and find him alive. They have left on their porch light through all these years. And in response to this news over the weekend, thousands of Minnesotans have turned on their own porch lights to show solidarity with the Wetterlings.

CORNISH: That news was that Jacob's remains had been found in a field in Minnesota.

Ross says, she got a text from Patty Wetterling. We're in deep grief, she wrote, we didn't want Jacob's story to end this way. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.