Search intensifies for missing store clerk

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:32 PM

Shelly Heeringa moved away from the Muskegon area about six months ago, and she said not having family around was hard on her daughter, Jessica Heeringa.

Now that Jessica is missing, Shelly is cherishing the last moments they spent together.

“I’m so glad I seen her that Wednesday,” Shelly said as television crews and volunteers milled about in the parking lot of The Pointes shopping plaza in Norton Shores. “I was able to tell her how much I loved her.”

Shelly — who now lives in Nashville, Mich. — and her boyfriend, Bob Kirkland, are among the many family members, friends and strangers who continue to pound the pavement to do what they can to find Jessica.

Jessica was abducted from the Exxon Mobil gas station and convenience store, 1196 E. Sternberg Road in Norton Shores, shortly before she was scheduled to close the store late Friday night, according to Norton Shores police. The 25-year-old Norton Shores woman has not been seen or heard from since.

Jessica's purse and other belongings were left behind, and no money was taken from the cash drawer, police said. There was no sign of a struggle.

Jessica did not have a cellphone with her.

“Her fiancé, Dakotah Quail-Dyer, had their only cellphone since she could use the phone at the store," said Diane Homrich, Jessica’s grandmother.

Quail-Dyer was at home with the couple's 3-year-old son, Zevyn, at the time of the presumed abduction.

Shelly said Zevyn has been staying with his paternal grandparents and does not yet know that his mother is missing.

Volunteers collected fliers Sunday and Monday in the parking lot of the shopping plaza, located just west of the gas station and U.S. 31. Organizer Carrie Mitchell said fliers are also available on Facebook.

A candlelight vigil is planned for 6 p.m. today in front of The Pointes shopping plaza. Volunteers have also set up a command station at the plaza.

Bank accounts have been set up at PNC Bank of Muskegon to help with family expenses and to fund a reward. People need to be specific for which fund they are making a donation, Mitchell said.

There is also an account at Lake Michigan Credit Union to help pay for Heeringa’s sister, Samantha, to come home from Florida.

Homrich, who was manning the volunteer station with her husband, Roman, said her granddaughter is "bright and bubbly."

“She would help anybody who needed help,” Homrich said.

Jessica’s mother agreed.

“She would have helped anybody," Shelly said. "That was probably her downfall. She probably thought he (the abductor) needed help.”

Shelly said her daughter is "kind of an old soul.”

“Her favorite group was The Beatles," she said. "She liked tie dye and peace signs."

Shelly said her daughter is very intelligent and an avid reader. She was a straight-A student who attended Kenowa and Sparta schools before graduating from homeschooling, and she hoped to continue on in school and work in accounting.

Jessica and her fiancé were dealing with financial hard times after he lost his job, Shelly said, and he is close to running out of unemployment benefits.

“I know she was taking on any shift she could,” Shelly said. “She was covering for anybody — anything to make ends meet.”

Fruitport resident Kathy Danhof is one of the volunteers who showed up Monday morning to pick up fliers. She planned to post them at her gym and her condominium complex.

“I’ve worked in corrections for 34 years,” Danhof said. “I know we need to do as much as we can, as soon as we can, to bring her home.”

Mitchell said they probably handed out more than 4,000 fliers on Monday. Many people were making additional copies and printing them from the Facebook page set up to help find Jessica.

Shelly asked people to keep calling in their tips.

“Whether or not they think it might not mean nothing, it might mean something,” she said. “Just call.”

Shelly said if anyone sees someone that looks like the suspect to call police.

“Just call in so we can get Jess back,” she said.

Shelly said if she could talk to the person who took her daughter, “I would tell him to let Jessie go.”

Quail-Dyer agreed.

“Whoever took her, you can always bring her back,” he said. “Just because you did bad doesn’t mean you can’t do right.”

Quail-Dyer said he is certain his fiancée will return home safely.

“There’s no doubt in my mind," he said Monday.

Shelly said if she could talk to her daughter right now, she would tell her to be strong, to be there for her child and to come back to her family.

Police update

A task force of officers from the Norton Shores and Muskegon police departments, state police, Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department, Muskegon Prosecutor’s Office, and the FBI is continuing to sort through leads, Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw said Monday evening.

State police conducted a helicopter search during the day Monday but didn’t come up with anything, Shaw said. Previous ground searches in the area were also fruitless, he said.

Muskegon resident Craig Harpster called 911 shortly after 11 p.m. Friday when he stopped for gas at the Exxon Mobil station and the pumps were not working. He went inside the building and found it was empty.

The 911 call recording was released to the media on Monday.

“There’s nobody here,” Harpster told the 911 operator. “There’s a car here. There’s another car out front.”

Harpster told the operator that he called out in the store, but there was no response. He said it seemed "suspicious" that the store was open but no one was there.

The store did not have surveillance cameras.

Shaw expects another sketch artist to come into town today to work on a drawing of the driver of a van that was seen on the gas station property Friday night.

Shaw said police reviewed a video Monday evening supplied by a nearby business on Grand Haven Road that shows the vehicle of a possible suspect. He said a grey or silver minivan, possibly a Chrysler Town & Country, is shown traveling north on Grand Haven Road.

Authorities are looking for the driver, who is described as a white man, age 30-40, about 6 feet tall, with center-parted light brown wavy hair.

Police are asking anyone with possible leads to call Silent Observer at 231-722-7463. They are also checking tips left on the Jessica Heeringa Facebook page.

A reward fund has been set up as “Reward for Jessica.” Donations may be made by check or money order to the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, care of Silent Observer.

Donations may be mailed to or dropped off at the Norton Shores Police Department, 4814 Henry St., Norton Shores, MI 49441.

WZZM-TV contributed to this story.

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