NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) - As a police task force works to find missing Norton Shores woman Jessica Heeringa, family, friends and complete strangers set up an unofficial command post near her workplace where she disappeared three days ago.
Heeringa was last seen at the Exxon Mobil on Sternberg Road in Norton Shores just before 11 p.m. April 26. She is 25 years old, 5 feet 1 inch tall, and weighs 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.
Police say there is no evidence of a struggle, which may indicate she knows the person who abducted her.
"Based on the fact that there's no evidence of a disruption of the store itself, I do not believe it's a stranger abduction," Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw said.
But there is also little evidence of anything else. Heeringa's car, purse and belongings were left behind at the gas station. The cash drawer was open but no money was stolen, police said.
Authorities are working to get a rush on results from a DNA sample found at the station, but they don't know if that DNA is connected to Heeringa's disappearance.
As many as 20 officers are working the case. They are part of a task force consisting of the Norton Shores Police Department, Muskegon Police Department, Muskegon County Sheriff's Office and Muskegon County Prosecutor, and the Michigan State Police. They are working closely with the FBI.
So far, police have gotten at least 100 tips.
"A lot of interesting tips that we can follow up on. Whether or not they're solid, it's hard to say because we have so little to work on with physical evidence. We're just grasping at straws. Like with that DNA test. We're grasping for straws with whatever we can find at the scene," said Shaw.
Monday, flyers with Heeringa's photo and information were handed out in the area with hopes of triggering more tips. Flyers were taped to the sides of cars and on business doors and were handed out.
Heeringa's mother Shelly Heeringa saw the flyer for the first time Monday.
"I look at her smile and I hope to see that again, and I hope that she'll be smiling," she said.
A stranger also set up a Find Jessica Heeringa Facebook page, which is circulating the flyer electronically.
Heeringa's family is looking for any help they can get, knowing that time is of the essence.
"The harder you hit it now, the more chance you've got of getting her back safe. The longer this goes on, the chances get slimmer and slimmer," Heeringa's grandfather Roman Homrich said. "I myself think somebody's been watching her and knew she worked along at night and waited 'til there was nobody around and snatched her."
Heeringa's 3-year-old son is being told his mother is still at work.
Police are searching for a silver minivan, possibly a Chrysler Town & Country, that was spotted in the area around the time of the abduction. Surveillance cameras from a neighboring business captured images of the van.
"We think somebody lured her out the back door and then grabbed her and threw her in that SUV, or that Town & Country that they have on the flyer," Homrich said.
Police would like to speak to the driver of the minivan, 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.
"I would tell him to let her go, to do the right thing and let her go," Heeringa's mother pleaded. "We don't care about him, we just want her back. I don't know what his reasons were, but whatever reasons he had, they're wrong. There's' something wrong with him, and just please just do the right thing now and let her go. Don't let this go on any longer. Let her come home to her family. There are so many people who love her. She has a 3-year-old child that is missing his mother. And we would just like him to let her go."
There are potential witnesses that may be able to help solve the case, and they may not know it.
Though the gas station appears to be isolated at first glance, there is a restaurant across the street and a strip mall next door. U.S. 31 is just to the east and other well-traveled roads are nearby.
"All around this area there's not only a bunch of businesses and industrial complexes with many many workers, there's also the mall complex on the other side of US-31," Chief Dan Shaw said.
He said there were probably people in the area of the gas station Friday night who saw something useful.
"That's usually about the time some of the shops let out and a lot of people go down Sternberg Road at this time to get back home," said Shaw. "It's very possible somebody saw something and really doesn't know that they did.
Anyone who saw anything out of the ordinary in the area Friday night is asked to contact Silent Observer at 231.72.CRIME (27463), 911 or the Norton Shores Police
Department at 231.733.2691.
Police are getting tips through Facebook, like the one suggesting they look at a man who lives in North Muskegon, saying he's a customer at the station and that his wife owns a silver Town & Country.
24 Hour News 8 tracked that man down Monday. He said he's a customer at the Exxon on Sternberg Road and remembered Heeringa, but that he didn't know she was missing and that police haven't talked to him.
The man has a beard, which is not included in the person of interest description. And his wife's Town & Country is blue, not silver or gray.
"I never take that to work. I always drive mine," he said.
A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Tuesday evening to pray for Heeringa's safe return, according to the Find Jessica Heeringa Facebook page. It will be held at 6 p.m. at the Points Mall on Sternberg not far from the Exxon. Attendees are asked to bring their own candles.
A reward program has been established to aid in the investigation into the abduction of Jessica Heeringa.
Donations should be made by check or money order to the order of: Muskegon Community Foundation C/O Silent Observer
Donations can be mailed to or dropped off at:
Norton Shores Police Department
4814 S. Henry Street
Norton Shores, MI 49441
Donations may be made directly to Silent Observer. If you would like your donation returned if not used, it should be marked "Reward for Jessica".
24 Hour News 8's Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.
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