Chief Deputy Describes Finding Remains of Jacob Wetterling
ST. CLOUD - On October 22nd, 1989: Bruce Bechtold was a rookie deputy with the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.
He was the first to respond to the call that Jacob Wetterling had gone missing. At first he thought it was a runaway or a prank gone wrong, but he quickly realized it was a serious situation when he heard about a masked man with a gun from dispatch.
"I was very inexperienced and pretty optimistic that we would find this boy relatively soon and if we don't find him tonight we'll find him tomorrow," Bechtold says.
Bechtold always remained optimistic that they would find Jacob and close the case, even as it dragged from days into years. He's now Chief Deputy with the Sheriff's Office and was named the new lead investigator for the Wetterling case in January. He took over after Pam Jensen retired. She led the Wetterling investigation for about 15 years.
Bechtold was also part of the team that started digging for Jacob's remains on Wednesday, August 31st.
"That was the day they brought Heinrich out there and he pointed out a couple spots where he could remember he may have buried Jacob's remains. Upon searching the first area, one of the BCA investigators found a piece of red fabric protruding from the sod," Bechtold says.
The red fabric turned out to be part of the jacket Jacob was wearing the night he was murdered. DNA testing later in the week revealed the answer the Sheriff's Office had been seeking for nearly 27 years: remains at the site belonged to those of Jacob Wetterling.
"It was kind of an astonishment or unbelief that we were there, that [Heinrich] was truthful and telling us where we needed to go. This is what we had been looking for for all these years," Bechtold says.
Danny Heinrich admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Jacob in federal court on Tuesday. He buried his body by a farm pasture near Paynesville. He's facing a 20-year prison sentence for pleading guilty to child pornography charges. Sentencing is set for November 21.
Bechtold says he owes most of the credit to the Wetterling family and the other investigators before him to help close the case.
"It's not necessarily about me, it's about the community, and it's about the Wetterling family. We just did as we were asked to and expected to by our community."