The mother of Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old Minnesota boy who went missing in 1989 before his remains were found last week, is speaking out about the startling confession her son’s killer gave Tuesday in a federal courtroom.
“It’s incredibly painful to know his last days, last hours, last minutes,” Patty Wetterling said through tears. “He’s taught us how to live, how to love, how to be fair, how to be kind. He speaks to the world that he knew … and it is a world that’s worth fighting for.”
Heinrich, 52, led officials to the boy’s remains in exchange for not being prosecuted for Wetterling’s abduction and murder, the Star Tribune reports. He pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography and prosecutors will ask for the maximum 20-year prison sentence. (Prosecutors said Jacob’s parents supported the plea deal so they could get closure.)
Along with the sentence, Heinrich will be required to register as a sex offender and “may never be released again,” the Star Tribune reports, citing the county attorney.
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“We love you, Jacob,” Patty continued. “For us, Jacob was alive until we found him. We need to heal … there’s a lot more work to do to protect all of our world’s children.”
Through tears, Patty said, “I want to say, ‘Jacob, I’m so sorry.’ ”
Heinrich was previously named a person of interest in the case back in October, after he was arrested on child pornography charges.
WATCH: Jacob Wetterling’s Grieving Mom Asks Others to ‘Create Joy’ to ‘Bring Me Comfort Today’
Heinrich’s confession shed light on the mystery that has haunted the Wetterling family and their Minnesota community for decades.
Heinrich told authorities he wore a mask when he abducted Jacob before handcuffing the boy in a car and assaulting him in the woods, according to the Associated Press.
Before fatally shooting Jacob, Heinrich molested the boy. Jacob asked him at the time, “What did I do wrong?” according to the AP.