NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Jessica Heeringa’s grandfather was mowing the lawn just after noon Tuesday, unaware that police were questioning a possible suspect in her disappearance.
“I haven’t even had the TV on today,” Roman Homrich said after a reporter told him the news.
The details gave him some hope — a white, heavy-set suspect arrested in an attempted kidnapping in the Muskegon area last month.
“It’s better than anything I’ve heard lately,” Homrich said.
Jeffrey Willis, 46, is accused of trying to abduct a 16-year-old girl on April 16 north of Muskegon.
He was driving a silver minivan similar in description to the vehicle linked to Heeringa’s disappearance from her Norton Shores workplace on April 26, 2013. Police on Tuesday searched Willis’s Muskegon Township home, six miles north of the gas station where Heeringa was last seen.
Homrich said he had never heard the suspect’s name before. He said he planned to call Norton Shores police to learn more about the arrest. He wants to know if there’s any possible link to his missing granddaughter.
But in the three years since Heeringa vanished, the case has had enough false leads and dead-ends that Homrich knows not to get too excited.
Including this: Several months ago, a call from a stranger who promised to return Jessica.
“He guaranteed she’d come home if we paid him $40,000,” Homrich said. “We just led him on until the police could trace him.”
Police learned the man was a scammer from Russia, he said.
Still, his family has never given up.
“I can’t lose hope,” Homrich said. “My daughter (Heeringa’s mother) is positive she’s alive, yet. I hope we find her alive, but the longer it goes on the more I wonder. But I won’t give up. Nope.”
Anyone with information about what may have happened to Heeringa can call Norton Shores police at 231.733.2691 or Silent Observer at 231.72.CRIME (27463). Her family has also set up an anonymous tip line at 231.222.0278.