Just like everyone else, I was was deeply saddened last week to learn of the final twist in the tragic tale of the abduction of Jacob Wetterling. While I don’t think anyone had much hope of a happy ending to the story after 27 years, the news still caused my heart to sink. As sad as the news is, I’m glad that the story at least has an ending at all and, in that, Jacob’s loved ones finally have closure.
I’ll never forget when I first learned of the Wetterling abduction. I was 14 years old at the time and was sitting in the Atlanta airport with the mother of a friend of mine, waiting for that friend to get off a plane. As I sat there in the concourse terminal, I shuffled through a magazine someone had abandoned there. I believe it was a Time magazine, although I could be remembering wrong. What I do remember is rifling though the pages, not really intending to read anything but more to keep my bored 14 year old brain occupied while we waited on my buddy’s flight to arrive.
Then, the image on one particular page caught my eye and grabbed my attention immediately. I ceased listlessly flipping the pages and was instantly transfixed by what I saw there. It was the image of a beautiful preteen boy. The boy in the image was an 11 year old from Minnesota named Jacob Wetterling, and the headline associated with the image was horrifying.
At that moment, I found myself feverishly and almost involuntarily doing something the 14 year old me would rarely if ever do. That is, willingly reading a news article with my brain actually turned on. I did read it though, and wound up having enough time to read the whole thing.
As I read though the disturbing details of the case, I struggled to conceive of the full horror of it all. It was almost too much for my mind to process. I wondered to myself what kind of a monstrous human being would steal a little boy away from his family at gunpoint. I imagined that, if a man were evil enough to do such a thing, there were probably no limits to the cruelty he would subject the boy to, or the atrocities he would commit against him.
I tried to imagine what Jacob must have been going through while he was being abducted, the fear and helplessness he must have felt. I wondered where he was, was he alive, was in in pain, was he being raped and/or tortured, and would he ever see his family again? I wanted so badly to one day hear that he’d been found and that he was safe and okay. Of course, as the years that followed wore on, no news never came, until last weekend.
I will never forget sitting at the gate in the airport, reading that article, and the lasting impact it had on me. Like everyone else, I was horrified by what I’d read for all the aforementioned reasons but, for me, there was an extra type of horror that most people did not experience. For me, there was the inward horror of wondering if I might be just like the horrible man who stole Jacob.
It had only been in the previous year that I had rapidly developed an intense and undeniable sexual attraction to younger boys. At the time, my developing sexuality felt like a runaway train that had gone terribly off course, but I had no control over it’s direction and no idea where it was taking me. I was grappling with it and was bewildered by it, having no frame of reference for sexual attraction to children other than the occasional horrible news story such as the one I sat and read at Hartsfield International Airport that day .
As I read that article, I kept feeling compelled to draw my eye’s back to Jacob’s devastatingly handsome face. As much as I wanted not to be, I couldn’t deny I found him attractive, just as his abductor probably had. What did that mean for me though? Was I like this horrible man? Was I that evil too? Would I be capable of doing what he did some day? Could it really be coming to that?
Today, as a 41 year old man who has never even acted on his pedophilic attractions at all, I know that the answer to those questions is no. I know that I have no more in common with Danny Heinrich than the average straight male teleiophile does with Ted Bundy. As a kid, it took me quite a few years of walking all alone through some pretty dark places to figure that out though.
Now, having lived the majority of my life as an adult pedophile, I do not feel any kinship with Danny Heinrich just because he and I are basically attracted to the same people. I do not think other pedophiles should be compelled to see him as being “one of us” and, if they do, they speak for themselves on the matter. In fact, sorry if this is harsh but, I have absolutely no sympathy, empathy, or compassion for Mr Heinrich at all. He can be murdered in prison and rot in hell for all I care. The guy deserves whatever the hell it is that that happens to him, and probably a whole lot more.
I only wish the 41 year old me could go back in time and find the 14 year old me, so I could put my arm around him and let him know, on no uncertain terms, that he is not and never will be anything like the man who stole Jacob Wetterling.
Rest in peace, Jacob.