Remembering Jonas Burgos

Today the United States observes National Missing Children’s Day. Every year since 1983, the 25th of May serves to remind Americans of the importance of child safety. Why don’t we have that in the Philippines? Jacob, his brother Trevor, and their friend Aaron were on their way home, guided only by a small flashlight, biking happily along a lonely country road blanketed by darkness. It was the first time Jacob and Trevor persuaded their parents to let them rent a video from Tom Thumb, a convenience store in their town of St. Joseph in Minnesota, at night. Suddenly, a large man wearing a stocking mask appeared and blocked their way – threatening them at gunpoint, demanding their ages, peering closely at their faces. “Ten,” said Trevor. “I’m 11,” said Aaron. “Eleven,” Jacob replied to the intruder. The man ordered Trevor and Aaron to run into the woods – or he will shoot. The two terrified boys ran for their life. But when they looked back, the stranger – and Jacob – had already vanished. Jacob Wetterling disappeared on October 22, 1989. Today, there is still no trace. Not A Statistic I came across Jacob’s story on a December 2000 issue of Reader’s Digest. The odds are not encouraging. “Fewer than a quarter of missing children abducted by strangers are found alive after the first three days, and about half are never found,” writer Henry Hurt quotes Neil Neddermeyer, a retired Minnesota sex-crimes expert who has worked on the case But Jacob’s mother Patty refuses to give up. “We have a boy who is missing, and he’s not a statistic.” Find the Child The tragedy transformed Patty from a shy housewife into the driving force behind the Wetterling Foundation, traveling around the U.S. speaking to parents and law enforcements agents. “You will never look foolish if you pull out all the stops and find the child,” she declares. She feels that her son is still alive, and that he will hear her message: “We love you, Jacob, now as much as ever. Wherever you are, whatever has happened, whatever you’ve had to do, never doubt how much we love you. Call us, or come home, so we can begin to build the new memories.” Galvanized To Action The National Missing Children’s Day was triggered by the disappearance 6-year old Etan Patz, on a New York street corner, while on his way to school. Americans were galvanized to action, and in 1983, then President Ronald Reagan declared May 25 – the day Etan disappeared – as National Missing Children’s Day. The Philippines doesn’t have that, which is all the more ironic because our country has a solid tradition of missing people – mostly student-activists – who are abducted and murdered by government soldiers, going back to the Marcos regime. Many Others Jonas Burgos is the poster-boy for the desaparecidos – the disappeared – for our generation. He may not have been a small child and his case may have had political undertones because he was a community leader accused of being a leftist, but the pain that lashed at his family is the same agony that tortured the parents of Etan Patz, Jacob Wetterling, Adam Walsh, and tragically, many others. There is still no justice for Jonas. There is still no peace in her mother’s heart. Edita Burgos photo courtesy of


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