Jacob Erwin Wetterling (born February 17, 1978) was an American boy from St. Joseph, Minnesota who was kidnapped from his hometown at the age of 11 on October 22, 1989. He, his brother, and a friend were bicycling home from a convenience store, when a masked gunman came out of a driveway and ordered the boys to throw their bikes into a ditch and lie down on the ground. He asked each boy their age. Jacob's brother and friend were told to run toward a nearby wooded area and not look back or else he would shoot them. After a short run, both boys did look back and saw the gunman grab Jacob by the elbow and walk away. As of 2008, the whereabouts of Jacob and the gunman are unknown.
Four months after the abduction, his parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, formed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, which is an advocacy group for children's safety. In 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, more simply known as the Jacob Wetterling Act, was passed in his honor. It was the first law to institute a state sex-offender registry. The law has been amended a few times, most famously by Megan's Law in 1996.
The investigation into Jacob's abduction has continued. In 2004, some new reports appeared in the local press. A long-held belief that the abductor got away in a car was abandoned. It was also revealed that ten months prior to the Wetterling abduction, another boy had been kidnapped, placed into a car, and sexually assaulted before being released. The modus operandi was similar to that of the Wetterling case. The man used a gun and upon releasing the boy told him to run and not look back or else he would be shot. This incident occurred ten miles from the location where Jacob, his brother, and friend were stopped.
The Bridge of Hope is named in honor of Jacob. His mother Patty Wetterling ran unsuccessfully for the Sixth Congressional District of Minnesota in 2004 and 2006.
The Charley Project has sketches of a man believed to have abducted Jacob and sexually assaulted the other boy in 1989.
Jacob is a featured child in the Polly Klaas Foundation.