Oct. 22, 1989: Eleven-year-old Jacob Erwin Wetterling is abducted by a masked gunman about 9:15 p.m. along 91st Avenue, southeast of St. Joseph. Firefighters and 35 officers from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies search the area. Two local FBI agents and five from Minneapolis are assigned to the case. A state helicopter with a searchlight searches the nearby woods and fields. A command post is set up at Del-Win Ballroom in St. Joseph. Searches are called off at 3 a.m. until daybreak.
Oct. 23, 1989: The search resumes at 8 a.m. Department of Natural Resources officers use all-terrain vehicles to search a two-mile radius around the abduction site. Helicopters fly over a 25-square-mile area. A Minneapolis bloodhound leads officers to tire tracks, prompting officers to believe the kidnapper had a car nearby. By 1:30 p.m., fliers are distributed. Photos are sent to law enforcement agencies in a five-state area.
Oct. 24, 1989: An FBI expert in psychological profiles flies in from Washington, D.C., to join about 14 other investigators.
Oct. 25, 1989: Authorities receive several tips that a small red car had been seen in St. Joseph in the past three weeks. About two dozen red cars in the area are investigated. The FBI profile describes the abductor as a white man, 25-35 years old, employed in a low-skilled job with a low self-image probably stemming from a physical deformity such as acne or scars.
Oct. 26, 1989: At 11:30 a.m. about 30 horses and riders from at least five southern Minnesota counties form a volunteer posse and begin searching one mile east of St. Joseph. About 50 officers, including at least 20 FBI agents, sift through hundreds of tips.
Oct. 27, 1989: Officials release an artist’s sketch of a man who had tried to abduct a Stearns County boy earlier that summer.
Oct. 28, 1989: About 240 Guard members, volunteers and officers scour several square miles around the abduction site while three helicopters conduct an air search. A white sweat sock is found about 100 yards from the site, but a Minneapolis bloodhound can’t track its scent farther than a nearby road.
Oct. 29, 1989: An additional 100 National Guard members join the search. From 7:30-10 p.m., roadblocks are set up in St. Joseph. About 2,000 motorists are stopped and questioned by the State Patrol.
Nov. 3, 1989: Authorities have questioned 100 potential suspects. They conduct a final ground search.
Nov. 4, 1989: A sketch of a 1970s Ford van is released. The van was believed to have been used in an earlier abduction attempt of a 10-year-old boy. The sketch generates several tips.
Nov. 6, 1989: A composite drawing is released of a man who was seen acting suspiciously at a Tom Thumb store in St. Joseph and a Quick Mart in Avon shortly before the abduction.
Nov. 9, 1989: An unauthorized sketch of a former suspect circulates. The sketch was removed from circulation in a few days. Authorities have received more than 12,000 tips.
Nov. 12, 1989: Two more suspect sketches are released, one of a man who talked about the incident and another of a man suspected of trying to kidnap a New Brighton boy. They generate more than 300 tips.
Nov. 17, 1989: A detailed description of a car involved in the attempted abduction of a 13-year-old boy in Roberts, Wis., is released. Someone calls a national missing children’s network and reports that Jacob is actually still in St. Joseph. Authorities investigate but nothing turns up.
Nov. 20. 1989: Six Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and five FBI agents are taken off the case.
Nov. 23, 1989: The FBI releases another sketch, one that blends three others because agents believe all three sightings could have been the same man.
Nov. 24, 1989: Authorities seek information on three cars seen in Jacob’s neighborhood before the abduction.
Nov. 30, 1989: A more accurate drawing of an earlier sketch is released.
Dec. 12, 1989: Authorities rule out any links between Jacob’s abduction and that of a 10-year-old Spring Lake Park boy.
Dec. 14, 1989: Attention turns to links between Jacob’s abduction and the abduction and sexual assault of a 12-year-old Cold Spring boy in January. A sketch of the suspect is released. Details lead investigators to think the two could be related. The sketch generates 400 tips and six officers rejoin the case.
Dec. 29, 1989: Four FBI agents are pulled from the case.
Jan. 30, 1990: Six more FBI agents are taken off the case, leaving nine investigators.
April 18, 1990: An air search of several St. Cloud quarries yields nothing. No further searches are planned.
May 2, 1991: Patty Wetterling sends 10,000 copies of a letter asking for help in finding her son. It generates a few leads, but nothing significant.
Jan. 4, 1992: A nationwide mass-mailing of a computer-enhanced photo of Jacob turns up no clues.
Feb. 2, 1994: A former Nebraska attorney claims Jacob might have been taken as part of a large Midwest child-sex ring. Authorities don’t believe him.
Jan. 7, 1995: The FBI agent who led the Minneapolis office during the Wetterling abduction retires.
May 16, 1996: Search warrants authorities thought were sealed are released to the public. The warrants reveal three potential suspects authorities considered early in the investigation: A then 60-year-old St. Joseph-area man who confessed to the kidnapping one month after it occurred. The man was later eliminated as a suspect and moved to a nursing home because he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. A St. Cloud State University student who was committed to a mental institution one week after Jacob’s abduction. The man later was eliminated as a suspect and killed himself in another state. A Paynesville-area man who fit the description of a man suspected of abducting and sexually assaulting a Cold Spring boy. Authorities searched his home three months after the Cold Spring abduction. Police then said that the man wasn’t a top suspect in the St. Joseph abduction, but at least one paragraph in the search warrant was blocked out.
August 1997: A computer-enhanced photo of what Jacob could look like at age 19 is sent to about 73 million U.S. homes.
October 2003: The driver of a long-sought vehicle comes forward. Authorities rule him out as a suspect in the abduction. The theory of the case changes, leading investigators to focus on local suspects who could’ve been on foot when snatching Jacob.
February 2004: The new information brings energy back to the case. Media reports the change in focus for the case. Authorities interview a local potential suspect.
May 2004: Media reports surface that link Jacob’s abduction to the abduction and sexual assault of the 12-year-old Cold Spring boy. The boy was taken 10 months before Jacob. The victim comes forward and said he believes links exist. Authorities receive about 20 new tips. But investigators believe the cases likely aren’t related.
Feb. 17, 2008: Jacob’s family celebrates his 30th birthday.
September 2008: The Jacob Wetterling Foundation changes its name to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. The new name reflects its mission to be a resource to parents and schools.
October 2009: Media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the abduction generates about 30 tips within a few days.