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Cell phone data crucial to finding Heeringa's alleged abducter

9:04 AM, May 6, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Cell phone data crucial to finding Jessica Heeringa

  • A Secret Service agent is analying area cell phone data from the night Heeringa disappeared.
  • A Secret Service agent is analying area cell phone data from the night Heeringa disappeared.

NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WZZM) --  It has been one week since Norton Shores Police classified Jessica Heeringa's disappearance as an abduction.

Sunday, Police Chief Daniel Shaw says they still have no clues other than the two surveillance tapes of the silver minivan. More than 1,000 tips have come to the public, but authorities believe cell phone data could be just as important.

If Heeringa had her phone on her, Chief Shaw says they would have been able to track her immediately. But instead, they're trying to track down the suspect's phone, if he has one.

If so, they hope he made a call or sent a text at some point Friday, because all of the cell phone towers in the area could provide those clues to police.

It didn't take Norton Shores Police long to locate Heeringa's cell phone, left inside the Exxon Mobile Gas Station.

Now, locating her -- or her alleged abductor -- will take the work of multiple other cell phones, all powered by one small machine. Norton Shores Police has a cell phone data tracking unit, which they received last year through a grant from Homeland Security.

"It basically takes a mirror image of the phone itself," said Chief Shaw. "It would download all the data through this device onto the computer."

The process starts with cell phone towers themselves. Shaw's team asked phone carrier immediately for access to all area data following Heeringa's disappearance. Shaw says they've retrieved about a dozen phones -- all from people who voluntarily brought them in -- and now police have hundreds of contacts to sift through.

"We're looking to cross reference it with other elements we're looking for in this case," he said.

That includes a silver minivan. And by checking cell phones for contacts, they can see who the vehicle belongs to.

"We run the vehicle plate number and can get access to the driver's license photo if we need to," said Shaw.

The cross referencing is done through the Michigan Secretary of State, and a Secret Service Agent is in charge of analyzing that data. Chief Shaw says it's incredibly time consuming.

"From what I've heard, I think we have 35,000 silver minivans in the region," he said.

But he says everyday they get closer to finding their match.

"I'm pretty confident we have the data we need to find the person in the gray van. It's just finding that needle in the haystack."

Chief Shaw says the Secret Service agent came from the Detroit office, but is originally from the Muskegon County area and wanted to help with the case.

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