Hope for Jessica

Hugs were given in abundance during a candlelight vigil for Jessica Heeringa on Tuesday night.
Becky Vargo
May 1, 2013

Jessica was abducted from the Exxon Mobil station on Sternberg Road in Norton Shores as she was getting ready to close the store late Friday night. The 25-year-old Norton Shores woman has not been seen or heard from since.

Jessica's mother, Shelly Heeringa, wiped a tear from her eye after a long hug from a well-wisher at the vigil.

“Only good can come from this, and hopefully it will be the thing to bring Jessie home,” she said as she clutched a red rose and a red candle.

Several hundred people gathered at The Pointes shopping plaza on the warm evening to show their support for the family. They looked over a newly released sketch of a man wanted for questioning — the man who was driving a silver minivan spotted at the gas station on the night of Jessica's disappearance. They accepted candles and picked up copies of fliers to distribute to help locate the suspect and Jessica.

Ernie Sloan of Muskegon said he doesn’t know the family, but he showed up at the vigil to support them.

“I wanted to come to tell her we’re praying for her," he said.

David and Laura Archer of North Muskegon also didn't know the family, but were there to show support.

“He used to stop in the station when he worked second shift,” Laura said of her husband.

Laura said she has worked at gas stations in the past, and it never bothered her to work late or alone.

“We always had security cameras,” she said. “I think it would be different now.”

Meranda Stevens and April Theile, both of Muskegon, worked together to try to keep their candles lit in the breeze.

Stevens said she works at a nearby home improvement store and she feels very safe there, even when she leaves late at night. Since Jessica Heeringa's abduction, Stevens said her store manager offered to have security escort anyone who requested it.

“They usually stand in the doorway and watch us out,” she said.

Adam and Jennifer Smith of Norton Shores said they brought their family to the vigil to support Jessica's family and for their children’s education.

“I believe that even tragic things can be important to teach your children,” Adam said. “They can see that it happens for real. It doesn’t just happen in big cities — it happens here.

Their daughter, Madison, said they were there to help bring Jessica home.

“Even though we don’t know her, she is part of our family because we’re all part of God’s family,” Madison said.

Jessica’s father, Pete Jenkins, watched quietly from the sidelines with his wife, Christina, and her daughter, Aliesha Raines.

“(Jessica) moved in with us when she was 12,” Christina said. “She was very quiet, and smart — very smart. ... She was a very sweet girl, very helpful when she was working. I don’t think she ever gave off a vibe that someone would misread.”

Evelyn Hibbs of Allendale, a friend of Jessica's mother, said it was devastating to find out the little girl she used to babysit had disappeared.

Hibbs was gathering more fliers to hand out at where she works in Grand Rapids. She was also planning to give fliers to her sister in Newaygo and to some friends in Coopersville.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Shelly Heeringa said about all the people surrounding her at the vigil. “The more people that know about this, the more they can tell others."

A large contingent of media also attended the event. The abduction has attracted national attention from network TV news broadcasts.

A small police presence was also present Tuesday evening.

Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw said he was waiting for an onslaught of calls from people who saw the sketch of the suspect on the evening news. The sketch was released to the media earlier in the day.

Shaw said one of the questions he has been asked is, "What’s the likelihood that this is the guy?" He explained that once a sketch is completed, the witness is asked on a scale of 1-10 how close it is to the person he or she had seen.

“Our witness that gave the description said, ‘That is a 10. That is the guy that I saw,’” Shaw said.

Shaw said the sketch of the suspect and the suspect's van are what they're concentrating on now.

“By now, I would think if you had a silver van and were at the store at 11 p.m., and had nothing to hide, you would have come forward," the chief said.

Shaw said a multi-police agency task force compiled to investigate the abduction will continue to work together as long as valuable tips keep coming in. If some of those officers have to return to their normal jobs, “a lot of chiefs from around the area have offered help,” he said.

Anyone who has a tip to offer in the case is asked to call Silent Observer at 231-722-7463, or 911.

Volunteers will continue to man a command station for volunteers at The Pointes shopping plaza, where fliers are available for distribution. Donations are also being accepted to help fund the family’s expenses and to fund a reward.

VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY OF THE VIGIL BY CLICKING HERE.

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