But the mother still hasn't given up hope on him returning home.
Jacob would have turned 38 on Wednesday, and to commemorate his life, Wetterling and her husband Jerry, who still live in the same house where they raised their son, will eat his favorite food – steak – and look at old photographs.
Wetterling, still hopeful her son will "show up on the doorstep one day," says her family will not "celebrate" Jacob's birthday, rather they will keep his memory alive by recalling fond memories.
"Birthdays are really significant to mothers," she says. "Today is a chance for us to reflect, but it also brings up a lot of wondering whether there is anything else we can be doing. That's the hardest part for me. As time goes by, the pressure is still there to continue looking."
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Heinrich has not been charged in the Wetterling case. His arraignment is set for February 22 at 10:00 a.m. A trial is scheduled to begin on July 11, PEOPLE confirms.
"There have been hundreds of suspects over the years, so I'm not even thinking about it until something is concrete," the mother says. "I can't be let down again. We've been fighting and searching for answers for so long."
Courtesy of Patty Wetterling
"I will continue always. If Jacob were to walk in the door one day, I would want him to know we did everything we could to try and find him," she says. "But no child deserves this and I'm also fighting for a bigger purpose. I want to see a better world where this doesn't happen to children."
The mother also penned an emotional birthday note to Jacob (below) that was first posted on the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center website.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACOB!
Birthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight! I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!
I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That's pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.
My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong…so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.
I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The non-profit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.
And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we'll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…
For more information missing children's cases, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website at www.missingkids.com.