'Never give up hope'

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:20 PM

“That’s what she would want,” said her grandmother Diane Homrich of Grand Rapids. “She would want us with her son.”

Jessica was working at the Exxon gas station, 1196 E. Sternberg Road in Norton Shores, late on April 26, 2013, when police said the 25-year-old Muskegon woman was abducted.

Four-year-old Zevyn actually had his birthday in January, but a rift developed between the Heeringa family and Zevyn’s father, Dakota Quail-Dyer, which led to the family not being able to see the boy for several months.

A visitation agreement is now in place. That’s why they celebrated Christmas with the child two weeks ago and that’s why they are celebrating his birthday today.

“He’s tall and slender, and a little more mature,” Homrich said of her great-grandson. “I bet he’s grown 2 inches.”

The rambunctious child seems pretty normal, considering what has happened, his great-grandmother said. Does he still ask for his mother?

“He didn’t mention her when he was with us,” Homrich said. “We only had him for six hours and there was a lot going on.”

The night Jessica disappeared

The pretty, petite, blond-haired woman was working the late shift at the gas station on Sternberg Road, west of U.S. 31, that Friday night. She vanished sometime between 10:55 and 11:10 p.m., according to Norton Shores police.

A customer said everything was fine when she was there at 10:55 p.m. Another customer called 911 at about 11:10 p.m. after he tried to get gas at the station’s pumps, went into the store to get help and discovered no one around.

It didn’t take police long to determine that this wasn’t a typical missing person case.

“They realized that night that she didn’t just walk away,” Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw said. “I was notified before midnight that this was something more.”

Under normal circumstances, police would not become involved until a person is missing for more than 24 hours.

But police noticed Jessica’s coat and a purse containing more than $400 was left behind in the store. A cash drawer, already counted out for the night, was sitting on top of the safe. A garbage can was next to the back door, ready to be dumped.

Police also found a 2-by-3-inch blood stain on the concrete outside the back door. It was later determined, by DNA analysis, to be Jessica’s blood.

Shaw said officers were at the scene until 4 a.m., back in the office by 6 a.m. and had a task force on site at 8 a.m.

Lots of help, but no answers

Over the next couple of weeks, a task force of 15 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as 14 separate specialized units, worked full-time to follow tips and search for Jessica.

The investigative task force was staffed by 75 investigators over the course of the year. They put in more than 12,000 staff hours while conducting approximately 1,400 follow-up investigations based on tips and information they received.

The task force executed 33 search warrants and conducted an additional 20 consensual searches as well, Shaw said. Most of those were done to recover cellular, telephone, computer and social media data.

There were several searches of residential property for other physical evidence, and a dozen ground searches and two underwater searches.

Where they searched

Initial ground searches were conducted in a one-mile radius from the gas station, Shaw said.

As tips were received, police conducted searches of several local parks, including Lake Harbor, Ross and Hidden Cove. They also searched several hundred acres of P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and Harbor Island in Grand Haven.

“The Grand Haven Road corridor was searched from Sternberg north,” Shaw said. “The Hile baseball fields on Sternberg and a couple other areas out in the county.”

“Last fall, we had a tip (that) a couple fishing snagged a tarp on Muskegon Lake, tried to reel it in, but lost it,” Shaw said.

Divers searched the area a couple of times, but couldn’t find anything.

“They plan to go back out there and look again,” Shaw said. “It’s hard to find a small object in a big lake when things move.”

Leading up to the abduction

Jessica purchased groceries at the Aldi store on Henry Street in Muskegon at 2:44 p.m. the day of her abduction, police said. She started her shift at the Exxon store at 4:35 p.m.

Police said Jessica didn’t worry about the lack of video cameras in the store. 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 or allow friends to enter by the back door.

Between 7:30 and 8:15 p.m., a reported boyfriend arrived at the station in a silver full-size van. Police said the two reportedly had a discussion about their relationship and Jessica appeared upset after the discussion.

Two other people in the store observed Jessica chatting with a customer at the pumps at that time and noted nothing suspicious.

A female customer entered the store at 10:55 p.m. and purchased a lighter. She said Jessica was alone and did not appear distressed or nervous.

To read the whole story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


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