Teen escapes abduction by jumping from moving car

A Muskegon-area 16-year-old says she thought a stranger was going to kill her after he allegedly tried to abduct her last month, so she jumped out of a moving vehicle and started running.

The suspect in that alleged attempted abduction, Jeffrey Willis, was arrested Tuesday.

The teen still gets upset talking about the incident that happened north of Muskegon on the morning of April 16. Tuesday, she told WOOD that the person who was supposed to drive her home from a party got drunk, so she started walking — but she got lost. By around 4 or 5 a.m., she said, she felt like she had been lost for a couple of hours. Then a minivan pulled up.

“This silver van pulled up to me, (the driver) asking if I wanted a lift and I said no, I just wanted to use his phone,” the teen said.

There were cars behind the minivan, she said, so she got in to avoid causing a backup. She said the driver immediately rolled up the window and locked the doors.

“I asked to use his phone and he said his phone was dead and then I thought something was weird,” the teen recalled.

She asked him to stop the minivan.

“He was slowing down but he wasn’t stopping and then he reached and pulled out a gun,” the teen said.

She described it as a black handgun.

“I really thought he was going to kill me and I thought he was going to take me. I was just scared,” the teen said.

So she took action. As the minivan drove along W. River Road near Green Creek Road, she unlocked her door and jumped out.

“He stopped the car, went to the back of the car and was still pointing the gun at me,” the teen said.

She started running.

Mug shot of Jeffrey Willis. (Courtesy Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department)
Mug shot of Jeffrey Willis. (Courtesy Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department)

 

“I was just screaming not to kill me and I love my family and don’t do anything to hurt me,” she said. “I was just thinking about my mom the whole time and then he told me that he was just kidding and everything was a joke, but I just kept running.”

She says she ran to a nearby house where a woman was letting her dogs out.

“I was just screaming,” she said. “I was like, ‘He’s got a gun. Please let me in.’”

She says the woman saved her and called 911. The teen sustained scrapes and bruises when she jumped from the minivan, but wasn’t seriously hurt.

She later identified the man in the van as Willis. She said she’s absolutely certain it’s him.

“100 percent. I know it’s him. As soon as I saw his mug shot, I knew it was him and I was just so happy that they got him,” the teen said.

The Muskegon County sheriff on Tuesday said he’s also sure Willis is the would-be kidnapper.

Jail records show Willis, 46, is being held on a kidnapping charge and is expected to be formally arraigned Wednesday. He lives in Muskegon Township, about 11 miles from where the teen says she jumped out of the minivan. Police were at his home for hours on Tuesday conducting a search.

Police are looking into the possibility that the case may be connected to the April 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringafrom her Norton Shores workplace. Police also think a silver minivan is connected to that case, and Willis lives only about six miles from the gas station where Heeringa was last seen.

The woman who provided a description of a possible suspect in the Heeringa case was interviewed by investigators Tuesday, but it’s unknown what, if anything, she had to say about Willis.

However, authorities were very clear Tuesday that they had not found any direct link between Willis and the Heeringa case.

“It’s really crazy because she’s been gone for three years,” said the 16-year-old involved in the recent incident. “Nobody would have known that that happened to me. Nobody knows that I started walking. Nobody knew anything and I could have been gone just like her. “

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