ST. JOSEPH, Minn. -- Officials in Stearns County have confirmed what was widely suspected: their intensive 2-day search of a St. Joseph farmstead was to gather evidence involving the abduction of Jacob Wetterling.
The Sheriff's office released a statement Friday morning describing the mechanics of the search, but revealed little about why it was conducted on the farm owned by Robert and Rita Rassier. It did say that the operation was based on 4 search warrants that were sealed by Stearns County Judge Vicki Landwehr so as not to jeapordize the ongoing Wetterling investigation.
Officials say that a number of items were seized from the Rassier farm, and will require additional processing and analysis that could take weeks or months.
The search and excavation operation concluded Thursday evening, Sheriff John Sanner told the St. Cloud Times. He said this phase of the investigation was complete and no arrests had been made.
Sanner would not comment about what investigators found or were looking for, citing the court order, but said a news release would be issued Friday morning.
Throughout the day, a backhoe and dump truck were excavating at least one site on a farmstead in St. Joseph, Minn.
Video shot from the air showed the backhoe and law enforcement crews digging in a low spot just off an unpaved road that cuts through two farm fields near the home of Robert and Rita Rassier.
The area being excavated appears to be a dump site. Some of the earth being dug up is blackened, suggesting that the site was also used for burning. Piles of what look like old construction materials and other trash sit nearby.
Dump trucks moved the piles of dirt off the property, apparently bringing them to the Stearns County Garage in Waite Park.
Jacob's father Jerry said the last two days have been exhausting.
"It's just been kind of emotionally draining...the last 48 hours. Now we go back to what we've been doing for 20 years...waiting and see what happens," Jerry Wetterling told KARE 11 on Friday. "That's the thing that really came from this week is that people really do care...It kind of speaks to how Jacob's disappearance has affected so many people. Everybody is anticipating wanting to get an answer. Where is Jacob?"
On Oct. 22, 1989, Jacob was riding his bicycle with his brother and a friend at dusk, and was just a half-mile from his home when they were approached by a masked gunman. He told the other two boys to run away and Jacob has been missing ever since. There have been no arrests, and authorities have cleared over 40,000 leads over the years.
For those who live in St. Joseph, this week's search opened up an old wound.
"I don't know of anybody here who hasn't been haunted by what happened," said St. Joseph resident Joyce Foster.
Parents were terrified after the abduction.
"That could have been our kid," Foster thought at the time. "I just think about it all the time. It's emotional and touches everyone. He is just a part of you."
Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother, was invited to the scene by law enforcement and later shared her thoughts with reporters.
Jacob's mother, was invited to the scene by law enforcement and later shared her thoughts with reporters.
Stearns County investigators, an FBI special agent, K-9 teams, and a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime scene truck are also on the scene.
Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtoldt now says that barrels trucked off the Rassier farm last night are used for the local town festival, and are filled with water to hold the tents down. He would not say why the barrels were removed from the farm or what investigators hope to learn from them.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner says he is optimistic the search will be completed by the end of the day on Thursday.
"I wish they would have closure," said St. Joseph resident Sylvester Prom. "I wish either way they would find out what happened. Twenty-one years is a long time to be waiting for an answer."
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