The Exxon station where Jessica worked as a clerk had no security cameras installed in the parking lot. Where I work, there are also no cameras in the lot; an extra cost the company does not want to cover. Besides, the Norton Shores area, where the Exxon station is located, is known for not having a lot of crime. The perfect place for an abduction at night. I don't think Jessica was forced into the silver minivan that took her away; I think she trusted the driver, even a little bit. As a store clerk who worked the night shift, she must have understood the need to be watchful, careful. She worked alone in that store, and I'm sure she had dealt with the occasional drunk or weirdo. Various men, not knowing she was a mother and in a relationship with her son's father, probably tried to chat her up in the store. At K-Mart, where I work, this is not uncommon. Some of our female associates have 'stalkers,' although no one takes it seriously. Many people come and go from the store, but some faces become familiar. These customers learn your name and say hello. Fine. Except when one of them figures out which vehicle in the parking lot belongs to you. Creepy guys come and go; acceptable, as long they keep going.
The disturbing thing about Jessica Heeringa's disappearance, in my opinion, is that no one noticed she was gone from the Exxon station until a few customers started to notice that no clerk was in the store. Someone called 911, but no one was too concerned until they noticed Jessica's vehicle in the parking lot. In hours, the race was on to find her; the police, volunteer search groups, donations, and fundraisers. The Muskegon Chronicle covered the story almost daily, as did the local news; the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo stations deigning to come to Norton Shores to report on Jessica's disappearance, which was 'important' enough for WOODTV to use their gas to drive over forty miles to Norton Shores and park their van at the Exxon station parking lot. There was even a segment on Good Morning America.
The flyers with Jessica's picture and description, along with a sketch of the 'suspect' behind the wheel of the minivan, are everywhere in Muskegon, even on vehicles. Some of these are parked in the lot at K-Mart but, as the colors on the flyers fade, time is running out for Jessica. Those first forty-eight hours are very important, more time makes her seem more far away. Her son has been told by her family that his mother is 'lost,' and this can suffice for a small child, but the unknown continues to nag at everyone else. A small amount of blood that leads to nothing, a pair of glasses found in the woods that turned out not to be hers. I wonder if her parents can sleep at night, or her son's father, the worry must be overwhelming at times. If she is alive, where is she? Is she being abused or held captive somewhere? Did she just run away? Why? It wasn't likely she would leave her child. If she is dead, how far away are her remains? I can only imagine and wait, like her family and friends. Thousands of anonymous tips are being looked into by police, but most are bogus, a waste of time and money.
I think the story of Jessica's disappearance went nationwide due in part because of the millions of Americans, male and female, who work at a cash register for a living. The industrial jobs are drying up, and there are college graduates at the register, earning minimum wage while waiting for the economy to improve. Would Jessica Heeringa have disappeared if she had been working in a factory, surrounded by a crew of co-workers? No, I don't think so.
My brother frequents the Speedway station near his home. One night, he came into the store. His neighbor works as a clerk, and he spoke with her as he paid for his items. Besides my brother, there was one other customer, a man who had been walking around, but not picking out anything. The female clerk, alone in the store, asked my brother to hang around until the man left. The same thing happened years ago with my dad, at a store he used to frequent to buy beer and cigarettes. The female clerk also asked Dad to hang around for a while until the creepy guy left. No one knows for sure if Jessica was outside, behind the store for a cigarette break, or if she was inside when her abductor showed up in his minivan. No outdoor security cameras, but the inside cameras, to spot shoplifters, could have caught her going out the front door. Possibly she went out a back door? I used to work alone at a thrift store years ago on Sundays, and if I was alone outside after dark, and a minivan was approaching me, I'd run. Vans are creepy, so my guess is that Jessica recognized the driver. In the sketch, he has a thin nose and a small chin. Not much to go on.
Jessica's return, I think, is now up to God. The tips will stop coming in and less police will be involved. Her son will keep growing and life will move forward. I was told by a cashier at K-Mart that Jessica used to come in as a frequent customer. I try to recall a young, petite blonde with glasses, but I wonder if it is just my imagination. In the great rush of living, the only thing that makes us stop and see, really see, is when tragedy occurs. It shouldn't be like that, we shouldn't be so careless, but what was on Jessica's mind when she was driving to work that night? Probably the same as mine; let's finish this shift, so I can go home.