MINNEAPOLIS – Forensic tests on items taken this summer from a Minnesota farm near the site of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling's 1989 abduction have revealed no evidence linking them to the crime, the Stearns County sheriff said Tuesday.
Sheriff John Sanner said various tests "were unable to establish, distinguish or identify potential evidence." He said further analysis was scheduled for some items and said more tests are possible, but declined to elaborate or provide any details on what tests had been done so far. His statement called the results preliminary.
"We're hopeful that the test results will lead us in one direction or another," he said.
Jacob was abducted Oct. 22, 1989, by a masked gunman on a rural road in St. Joseph, about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He hasn't been seen since. Authorities have examined more than 50,000 leads, but there have been no arrests.
The case drew national attention, leading to changes in sex offender registration laws. Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, became a nationally known advocate for missing children.
Interest in the case was renewed this summer when authorities converged on the 158-acre property near the abduction site and hauled away truckloads of dirt and other items.
At the time, Sanner told the St. Cloud Times that Daniel Rassier, a man who lived at the home with his parents, was a person of interest in the case. Rassier, 54, has told The Associated Press he had nothing to do with it.
"It's a bit of a relief, even though it doesn't answer too many questions," Rassier told the AP on Tuesday. "But it does answer the idea that Jacob could be alive and well somewhere out there. ... There's the hope, we all have the hope that he is out there."
Rassier said among the items taken in the search was a box of newspaper clippings about Jacob's abduction and excerpts of Rassier's journal with his thoughts about the case.
"I would not expect to get those back for a while," Rassier said.
Patty Wetterling told the St. Cloud Times that she's grateful to everyone who put energy into finding what was at the site.
"But today's like any other day, we still don't have any answers," she said.
She waits for answers. "And you do what you can to build a better world for kids in the meantime," she said. "That's what we do."
Jacob was abducted on a Sunday night. He, his 10-year-old brother Trevor, and his 11-year-old friend Aaron Larson rode their bikes and a scooter up to a nearby convenience store to rent a movie.
The boys were riding the familiar road home before 9:30 p.m. and were about a half-mile from the Wetterling house, and near the end of the Rassiers' driveway, when a masked gunman told them to stop and lay on their stomachs in a ditch. The man asked the boys their ages, and ordered Aaron and Trevor to run away or he'd shoot.
The boys ran, and when they looked back, Jacob was gone.
In the days that followed, hundreds of police and volunteers searched on foot and horseback for the boy. Over 300 National Guard troops and Department of Natural Resources workers made shoulder-to-shoulder searches of woods and fields. Rewards totaling $125,000 were offered, and in the following weeks fliers with Jacob's photo and description were mailed out nationwide. Tens of thousands of tips poured in.
In 2004, authorities ruled out a suspicious car they had been seeking for over 14 years, and instead began focusing on the possibility that Jacob was taken by someone on foot. The revelation, Sanner said at the time, led investigators to rethink their "theories of who's involved."
On June 30 of this year, authorities converged on the Rassier farm with search warrants. A day later, they began digging. The property had been searched before, but not so thoroughly. Sanner wouldn't say exactly what led to the recent search.
Sanner said Daniel Rassier was home alone on the night of the abduction, and authorities have talked to him over the years under many circumstances.
"I had nothing to do with it," Rassier said in a recent e-mail to the AP. When asked if he had obtained a lawyer, he said no. "I have nothing to hide and still trust law enforcement may come around."
Rassier is an elementary school music and band teacher and has worked full-time for the Rocori school district since 1978, said Superintendent Scott Staska. There are no disciplinary actions or complaints in his file.
But this year, when Rassier began teaching vocal music at St. Boniface School, the principal there put a paraprofessional in the classroom with him, citing concern from parents.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report.