Jaycee's Story Gives Hope to Mom of Missing Boy
For the past 20 years, Patty Wetterling has been living every parent's worst nightmare: In 1989, her son, Jacob, then just 11, was kidnapped while playing with his best friend and his brother. "They witnessed it," Wetterling told CNN. "They saw this masked man with a gun."
When Wetterling heard the news that Jaycee Dugard was rescued from nearly 20 years of captivity and abuse from her alleged kidnapper, Phillip Garrido, she told CNN that it made "her heart smile."
Ever since the fateful October day that took Jacob away from her, Wetterling has been a tireless advocate not only for her own missing son, but also for all parents who are living out the horror of losing their children to kidnappers or sexual predators. The St. Joseph, Minn. woman ran for Congress twice in an effort to give children a bigger voice in government, and also helped create Minnesota's sex-offender registry. She also helped found Team HOPE -- Help Offering Parents Empowerment -- a parent-to-parent support program for mothers and fathers of missing kids.
Today, Wetterling is focused on preventing tragedies like hers. As the head of the sexual violence prevention program for the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul, a big part of her job, she told CNN, is ending current "social norms" in the media that encourage sexual violence.
Prevention is just part of the picture, however, and Wetterling encourages all citizens to be alert for the signs that something is amiss -- in Dugard's case, a police officer noticed something suspicious.
"These kids do not come running forward on their own. They are found by someone else," she told CNN. "The bottom-line lesson is to tell people to report things when they see them. Trust your instincts ... You'd want somebody sticking up for your child, so don't second-guess."
Wetterling and Dugard's mom, Terry Probyn, kept in touch throughout the years after being brought together on a television show about missing and abducted children. Jaycee and Jacob were the same age when they disappeared.
Wetterling said she and Probyn spoke occasionally by telephone over the intervening years, but have not yet been in touch since Jaycee was reunited with her family last week. She said that Jaycee and her family will need time and space to heal from their ordeal.
But that doesn't dampen her happiness over Jaycee's return: "It's just phenomenal," Wetterling told CNN. "I know a lot of parents of missing children, and we all hope and pray that one day we'll get to hold our kids again. That's the goal."
As for Jacob, Wetterling said she still believes it's possible that she will be reunited with her son.
"We never quit," she told CNN. "We need you home. And to the man who took him: It's time. It's time to lift the burden that you've carried, as well, for all these years and tell us where he is and what happened. It's time."
Would you come forward if you saw something suspicious?
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.