“Kids have the right to grow up safe and to follow their dreams”, said Patty Wetterling when she visited Springfield Jan. 11.
In her first community public speaking appearance since her son Jacob’s remains were identified in September 2016, Wetterling was poised, dignified, informative  and positive.
“After Jacob was kidnapped, I realized that what had happened was a bigger problem than I realized,” she said. “I hadn’t heard about the problems with sexual assault in Paynesville before Jacob went missing.”
Danny Heinrich eventually led police to the location of Jacob’s remains and confessed not only to murdering him, but sexually molesting him also.
What Patty Wetterling found out was that Heinrich himself had been sexually molested as a child by a man named Duane Hart. While Heinrich appears to have perpetrated crimes against 15 victims, Hart, on the other hand, perpetrated 100.
Between 1986-87 in Stearns County, there was a series of attacks and attempts in which boys were stalked, chased, accosted and, in most instances, molested. The majority of Heinrich’s victims were ages 11-16, on their way home in the evening, and most were even within a half mile of their own homes. Heinrich usually wore a mask and threatened that he either had a knife or gun on him.
“It was a time when kids maybe didn’t say anything at all, but it also was a time when a parent or adult would say things like, ‘well, it happens’. It doesn’t just happen, and we need to educate not only ourselves, but our children, and the people who mentor. How we raise our children matters”, she emphasized. “Teach your son to respect women. Men need to be gentle, and we need to nurture both boys and men.
“Language and behavior are taught by example. Be a good example. It starts in pregnancy and involvement of the father and early quality of care for the child.”  
By Wetterling’s own words, over the years, “I have become somewhat of a hermit, which is sad,” but her message was clearly not of bitterness, non-blaming, teary eyed at times, but yet filled with hope and a message for all ages.
“It’s a tough topic”, she said, “but we need to teach our children and take away the fear, remembering also that fearful children are not safer children. Teach your children the proper names of body parts. It is proven that perpetrators don’t like when children know the names of their body parts. Teach that some body parts are private and that bodies are different, special  and that it belongs to you. Teach them to take care of their body keeping it healthy and clean and not allowing other people to touch them.”
Wetterling added, “We need to build up our children regularly, be resilient parents, pave a path of purpose and make sure your kids connect... if not with you, someone they can trust. They need social connections, such as volunteering, arts, athletics or learning. Find out what ‘sparks’ them. Ask what sparks them. You, as a parent, may think it’s football, but to them it could be dance.”
In the missing children’s networks Wetterling has been involved in or familiar with, she was quick to add that, “If you see a child in a bad situation or it looks like something is wrong, call the police. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between abuse and abduction.”
  Wetterling acknowledged that we live in a world today that is cynical and untrusting, but yet hopeful and full of possibilities.
“How can you help?”’, asked Wetterling. “Build a better and kinder world. Believe. Never forget or give up, and don’t let the bad guys win.”
The Wetterling’s have seen great things happen with “Jacob’s 11.”
  Jacob loved sports and he wore the #11 on his soccer jersey. Since his disappearance and subsequent “finding,” the state, communities and schools have turned his tragedy into positive ways to connect with us all.
 The Minnesota Vikings, Wild, Twins and Gophers, have all worn patches commemorating Jacob and the work that the Wetterlings have done to raise awareness.
 “Jacob believed in a world where children should grow up safe and follow their dreams,” Wetterling reiterated. “That’s what we’re fighting for. We have to honor Jacob and strengthen Jacob’s hope for a better and safer world for children. We thank you and encourage you all to live the 11 traits of Jacob. The idea of 11 came from kids.”
• Be fair
• Be kind
• Be understanding
• Be honest
• Be thankful
• Be a good sport
• Be a good friend
• Be joyful
• Be generous
• Be gentle with others
• Be positive
 Wetterling, in closing, was confident that Jacob’s legacy will move forward, but also emphasized to all, “We need to pull together to make a world that Jacob believed in.”