A Grim Anniversary: Jacob Wetterling's Disappearance

Patty Wetterling, who lost her son in 1989, now works to find missing children.

ByABC News
October 20, 2009, 5:35 PM

Oct. 21, 2009 — -- Patty Wetterling is getting ready for an anniversary no parent should ever have to mark: It has been 20 years since her oldest son, Jacob, 11 at the time, was snatched away from her in one brutal instant.

Over the past two decades, Wetterling has sustained herself with hope.

"We hope for Jacob, for all of our grandkids, for every child who's home safe today and every child who's missing," she said in an interview with "Nightline."

Wetterling and her husband, Jerry, their three other children, and three grandchildren were gathering at their rural St. Joseph, Minn., home in the lead-up to the anniversary. The family considered the milestone a chance to honor Jacob.

"We learned early on that this, what happened, was way bigger than Jacob and way bigger than our family," Patty Wetterling said. "It's about [like] this entire community was taken. There was an innocence stolen and my hope is that we have been able to pull some of that back and to provide, you know, this world where kids can grow up safe."

ABC News first made contact with Wetterling 10 years ago.

"This is God's country," she said at the time, walking in a cornfield just a half-mile from her house.

It was through the same fields, on a warm autumn night, that Jacob, his brother Trevor and a friend set out on their bikes to pick up a video.

It was the first time Jacob had been out alone at night on his bike.

On the return home, according to the other boys, a masked gunman stopped all three -- and then drove off with Jacob.

On a gravel road was a spot where Jacob's footprints seemed to show resistance. And then...

"It's gone," Wetterling said. "It's just bizarre."

It was just the beginning of a nightmare from which Wetterling has not yet awoken. But something inside her has awoken.

Over the years, Wetterling has found her voice, and her mission: to find Jacob and help protect other children.

"A lot of people ask, 'How do you do it?' How could I not?" she said. "Every parent knows, you would do anything for your children, and our anything [has] got to be a little more than we ever would have dreamed, but you continue. We'll do anything that we can to find him."