NORTON SHORES, Mich. (April 23, 2014) – As the one-year anniversary of the abduction of Jessica Heeringa approaches, FOX 17 revisited the case and obtained an exclusive timeline of the days surrounding the young mother’s disappearance.
Information from the Norton Shores Police Department reveals Jessica’s boyfriend had a silver van, and so did a customer she spoke with earlier in the day.
We’ve also learned more about investigator’s key witnesses. Police say one was the gas station manager, who was watching the store closely that night, because she thought Jessica was stealing.
On April 26, 2013, sometime between 10:55 p.m. and 11:10 p.m., Heeringa, 26, was abducted from the Exxon store, 1196 E. Sternberg Road in Norton Shores.
The subsequent investigation involved a large task force comprised of 15 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, plus 14 separate specialized units (aviation, behavioral science, technical services, intelligence analysis, etc.).
At its peak, there were 75 people working on the investigation. In all, investigators have devoted over 12,000 staff hours and conducted approximately 1,400 follow-up investigations based on tips and other information received.
A total of 33 search warrants and a minimum of 20 consensual searches have been executed. The searches were primarily conducted to recover date from cell phones, computers, and social media. And there were several searches of residential properties for other physical evidence. The investigation included a minimum of 12 ground searches and two underwater searches.
Here is an amended and expanded timeline that we have constructed based on the investigation to date:
April 26, 2013
2:44 pm: JESSICA purchased groceries at Aldi, 2715 Henry Street.
4:35 pm: JESSICA begins her shift at the Exxon store. JESSICA was aware the store did not have video cameras, as she had advised customers of this and the fact she was working alone. She apparently not concerned about the lack of cameras. It was not uncommon for her to prop open the rear door and turn off the store’s rear security light so she could smoke cigarettes behind the store or allow friends to enter via the rear door.
7:30 – 8:15 pm: A man identified as JESSICA’s reported boyfriend arrived at the Exxon station in a silver full size van. The two apparently had a discussion regarding their relationship. A customer told investigators that JESSICA appeared to be upset after the conversation with the man.
During that time, Jessica also had a fiancé, Dakotah Quail-Dyer.
7:40 – 8:50 pm: A female friend entered the store through the front door to visit JESSICA. Nothing suspicious was noticed at that time. Both the friend and a male customer observed a bluish silver van pull up to JESSICA while she was changing the receipt paper in one of the pumps. It appeared that the male driver and JESSICA had a friendly conversation.
10:55 pm: A female customer entered the store and purchased a lighter. She told investigators that JESSICA was alone in the store and did not appear to be nervous or distressed. The customer did not see anyone in the store or in the parking lot.
11:00 pm (approx.): An Exxon manager and her husband were riding their motorcycles eastbound on Sternberg Road when she saw a silver minivan slowly enter the north drive of the Exxon station from the service drive of the Points Mall. The van drove behind the Exxon station and did a U-turn. Its headlights went out as it pulled behind the store facing west. The manager suspected JESSICA may be in the process of stealing from Exxon, so she turned around on Harvey Street to return to the store. The manager and her husband drove to the Points Mall west of the Exxon station and parked in the lot so they could see the north and west sides of the Exxon station. There were no other vehicles in the lot except for JESSICA’s. The manager saw a figure standing at the rear of the van and noticed the van’s rear hatch was open. The figure shut the rear hatch and quickly opened it again. It appeared as though the figure was adjusting something in the rear of the van, and then closed the hatch again. The manager noted that the figure’s head was just above the roof of the van. The figure then walked to the driver’s door, got into the van, and began driving westbound on the service drive.
The manager made the following observations:
- The store’s rear security light was not on.
- The store’s rear door did not open at any time.
- She never saw a struggle or heard anyone yell for help.
- She did not see JESSICA outside of the store.
As the van drove closer to their location in the parking lot, the manager and her husband started their motorcycles and pulled up to the service drive. As the van passed, she looked at the driver, a male subject wearing a red or orange sweatshirt. Her husband stated that he did not see the subject well, but did see that he had “crazy” or wavy hair. Neither of them saw JESSICA or anyone else in the van. The manager and her husband pulled onto the service drive and followed the van until it stopped at Grand Haven Road. The manager’s husband stated that he was positive the vehicle was a silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan, as it was the same type a relative owned. He clearly remembered the Town and Country logo on the rear hatch door. Neither obtained the license plate number, as they had no reason to believe a crime had occurred.
(Note: This vehicle was located and was in Traverse City, Mich., at the time of the abduction.)
The van turned northbound on Grand Haven Road while the manager and her husband turned southbound on Grand Haven Road and went home.
11:02 pm: Surveillance video from inside of a closed store in the Points Mall captured a silver minivan turning northbound onto Grand Haven Road.
11:03 pm: Surveillance video from the Homestead Tavern captured a silver minivan driving northbound on Grand Haven Road.
11:05 pm: Surveillance video from the Coin Zone captured a silver minivan driving northbound on Grand Haven Road.
11:10 pm (approx.): A male customer arrived at the gas station, pulled up to the pump, and attempted to purchase gasoline. He was unable to do so, as the pump would not activate. He entered the store, believing that the clerk (JESSICA) may have been in the back room and not aware of his presence at the pump. He was unable to locate JESSICA. Upon exiting the store, he spoke with a female customer and called 911.
11:15 PM: Patrol units are dispatched to the store regarding a suspicious situation.
11:25 PM: The first officer arrives and begins investigation.
- Officers searched the store but did not locate JESSICA. Officers located her purse and jacket in the back room. The purse contained $420 in cash.
- Officers noted a cash drawer on top of the safe in the back room. They found the back door closed and latched, and there was a trash can in front of the door, as if JESSICA was preparing to empty the trash.
- Officers noted that nothing inside the store indicated a struggle. There was nothing that appeared to be disturbed.
- Officers exited the rear door and noted that the door did not have a handle on the outside.
- Officers located items of possible evidence outside the rear door, including what appeared to be a 2″ x 3″ blood stain on the concrete. (The blood was later determined by DNA analysis to be from JESSICA.)
- Officers photographed the interior and exterior of the store and evidence items prior to collection.
- Officers collected a sample of the possible blood stain and packaged the other evidence items.
11.38 PM: The Exxon station owner was contacted regarding the open store. He in turn contacted the dayshift manager to respond, as she lives closer to the store.
11:50 PM: The dayshift manager arrives at the Exxon station and provides officers with her observations of the silver minivan and its driver. The manager advised that the cash drawer was “counted down” for the next shift, indicating JESSICA was preparing the close the store. While talking to officers, the manager observed JESSICA’s reported boyfriend drive past the store in a work vehicle. He was contacted, asked to come to the Exxon station, and was questioned by officers.
12:38 AM: K9 team requested to search area. A search of the area north and east of the store was conducted with no results.
The Norton Shores Police Department says they’ve assembled a dozen persons of interest in the past year, eight of which they are no longer focusing on. But there are three or four persons of interest they’re watching and gathering information on, working to get a probable cause.
All persons of interest have been interviewed.