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Published July 01, 2010, 11:10 AM

Investigators Searching Property Where Wetterling Was Abducted

Investigators are once again searching a central Minnesota property where 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint nearly 21 years ago.

By: Amy Forliti and Patrick Condon, WDAZ

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. (AP) — Investigators began digging Thursday on the central Minnesota property near where 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted by a masked man at gunpoint nearly 21 years ago.

Aerial footage by KTSP-TV shows a backhoe excavating the property in St. Joseph and putting dirt in a dump truck, and an Associated Press reporter saw a dump truck filled with dirt leave the property.

Stearns County officials, an FBI special agent, K-9 teams, and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were on the scene, while the family that owns the farm was seen leaving Thursday morning. The property, which is 158 acres, was blocked off to media, and is hidden behind a grove of trees.

Authorities have said little about the search that began a day earlier. Stearns County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Bruce Bechtold reiterated Thursday that a court order prevented him from discussing details of the search. Authorities are not even confirming that the current search has anything to do with the Wetterling case.

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.

Jacob's disappearance from the town about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis rocked Minnesota and drew national attention. His mother, Patty Wetterling, became a known advocate for missing children and helped pass federal and state laws to track sex offenders and alert the public when children go missing. In 1990, she and Jacob's father, Jerry Wetterling, founded what's now known as the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center released a statement Thursday saying it has not been contacted by law enforcement about the current search.

"We have no comment regarding why the investigation is being pursued, if it is connected to Jacob, or why the investigation is being looked into at this time," the statement said.

On Wednesday, Patty Wetterling said the investigation into her son's disappearance is still open. She wasn't aware of any big "break" in the case that led investigators back to the property in St. Joseph.

"I know that what you do with an older case, is you go back to the beginning and you revisit everything, and that's what I believe they've done," Wetterling said. "So, you go back to the center. This is where it all started."

In 2009, Jacob's friend, Aaron Larson, recounted details of that night to the St. Cloud Times. He said the boys were riding back to Jacob's house from a convenience store on a familiar, quiet road when they were approached by a man with a gun who ordered them to stop, get off their bikes and lay down in the ditch on their stomachs.

Larson told the newspaper that the man asked Trevor, Jacob's brother, how old he was. When Trevor said he was 10, the man told him to run away. The man asked Aaron and Jacob for their ages, and they said they were 11. The man told Aaron to run away, and he and Trevor ran to the Wetterling home and called 911.

A large-scale search of the nearby woods and fields ensued that included the National Guard and hundreds of tips streamed in.

The property is owned by Robert and Rita Rassier, who are in their 80s. Their 54-year-old son lives with them. A message left with them Thursday was not immediately returned.

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Amy Forliti reported from Minneapolis.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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