NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) - It took authorities about 36 hours to classify the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa as an abduction.
Heeringa, 25, vanished Friday night between 10:50 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. from the Exxon Mobil gas station on Sternberg Road in Norton Shores. Authorities say her purse and car were left behind.
Initially, the case was considered a missing persons case. It wasn't until Sunday that police classified it an abduction.
"They have some information they probably have not released to the public," said professor Tonya Krause-Phelan, who practiced criminal law for 17 years and is now teaching at Cooley Law School.
Krause-Phelan said each department usually has its own criteria for what classifies an abduction versus a missing person case. She said typically it takes between 24 and 48 hours for an adult to be declared abducted. When it comes to a missing adult -- as opposed to a child or someone with special needs -- police must entertain the idea that adult may have left of his or her own volition, or have evidence that shows she likely didn't.
"They're going to have some evidence that something happen out of the ordinary -- that she didn't leave the gas station of her own free will -- that they were able to so quickly classify it as an abduction as opposed to a missing person," Krause-Phelan said.
Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw told 24 Hour News 8 about that process Monday.
"At first we needed to make sure it wasn't just someone that walked away," said Shaw. "From the collection of evidence, and the processing of that evidence, we were able to determine yes indeed she was abducted. She just didn't walk away from the store."
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the first three hours a child is missing are the most critical. The organization's website says although the murder of an abducted child is rare, "76.2 percent of children who are killed are dead within three hours of abduction."
The National Crime Information Center, which keeps statistics on missing adults, does not keep track of time frames like the one that exists for abduct children.
Krause-Phelan had some insight as to why that may be.
"It's much more difficult to quantify that with adults because there are a host of reasons why an adult may be unaccounted for for a certain period of time, and some of that may be a self-selected on timeout, if you will, so there's not necessarily a correlation we can draw from that," said Krause-Phelan.
Heeringa, a 25-year-old mother, is 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighs about 110 pounds. She has blonde, shoulder-length hair and blue eyes. She has wire-rimmed glasses but may not be wearing them. She may be wearing a blue collared shirt that says Sternberg Exxon.
The task force assembled to investigate the case would like to speak to the driver of a gray or silver minivan -- possibly a Chrysler Town & County -- that was seen leaving the scene around the time Heeringa disappeared. The driver is described as a heavy-set, white man between 30 and 40 years old, and having broad shoulders, and light brown, wavy hair parted in the middle and longer on top. He may have also been wearing a bright red or orange sweatshirt.
Anyone with any information about her disappearance or who noticed anything out of the ordinary in the area around the time of the abduction is asked to contact Silent Observer at 231.72.CRIME (27463), 911 or the Norton Shores Police Department at 231.733.2691.
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