Police recover missing Gresham woman's cell phone

Credit: KGW

Police recover missing Gresham woman's cell phone

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by KGW Staff

KTVB.COM

Posted on October 19, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:22 AM

GRESHAM, Ore. -- Police have recovered Whitney Heichel's cell phone at a Troutdale apartment complex. Investigators made the announcement about the break in the case at a Friday morning press conference into the investigation of the disappearance of a Gresham woman.

Police say the phone was found in a field near the Troutdale Terrace apartments at 701 SW 257th by children playing and was turned in to police.

Gresham police spokesman Claudio Grandjean called the discovery "a very favorable find for us." The device is smartphone that contains user data, he pointed out. The field also is a new location for investigators to conduct a thorough search, he said.

Investigators also said they would return Friday for a third day to search in the Larch Mountain area.

A police spokesman also stated that Whitney's husband was not a suspect in the case, but no one had been totally cleared.

WATCH LIVE: Press Conference

On Thursday afternoon, police said that in just the previous six hours they had received at least 21 new tips in the case of a Gresham woman's disappearance.

Whitney Heichel, 21, failed to show up for work at the Starbucks on Northeast Burnside Street in Gresham at 7 a.m. Tuesday, and her co-workers said she has always been very punctual.

Heichel was later reported missing in what Gresham police describe as a suspicious disappearance and crews Wednesday searched for evidence at Dodge Park, in Sandy, and at Larch Mountain, above the Gorge. Crews resumed the Larch Mountain search Thursday.

They said her vehicle had been to the two locations. The Gresham police chief cautioned that the items seized at those locations may or may not end up being evidence tied to the case.

Lt. Claudio Grandjean Thursday afternoon said police have found "some important items," but did not elaborate.

"We are hoping for the best and we're doing everything we can to find Whitney," he said. "We're using every investigative technique at our disposal."

He said he had been asked three times about a rumor that remains were found in the search, and he announced definitively, "The Medical Examiner is not on Larch Mountain and a body has not been found."

Family spokesman Jim Vaughn joined the press conference to say that people from all over the country had come to assist in the search and that they were "keeping positive about the whole situation."

Heichel's mother Lorelei Ritmiller described her daughter as someone willing help everyone. Her nickname was "momma" because she was just that to so many.

"She's not a picture, she's not a story, she's our daughter, she's a wife, she's a sister, she has five sisters and a brother. She has grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and thousands of people in the community of our faith that absolutely adore her," Ritmiller said. "She's sunshine in our hearts, She's gentle, she's compassionate."

Photos: Missing Gresham woman Whitney Heichel

Her husband, Clint Heichel, tried to address reporters at the Thursday press conference. After several tries, he walked away disconsolate and unable to speak.

Clint said Whitney kissed him goodbye at 6:45 Tuesday morning and that was the last time he saw her.  He said Starbucks contacted him after she failed to show up for work, and he called and texted her "a million times," but she never responded.

Police released a timeline Wednesday that said her SUV pulled into a service station at 9:14 a.m., on  257th and Stark, and her bank card was used. They asked that anybody who might have seen Heichel or her vehicle call tip line at (503) 618-2719 with any information.

Timeline: The Search for Whitney Heichel

Clint told KGW he called 911 to report her missing just before 10 a.m.

Whitney's vehicle, a 1999 black Ford Explorer, was later found outside the Walmart in Wood Village at around 1 p.m., according to the police timeline.  The SUV's passenger side window had been broken, investigators said.

"Police are interested in speaking to anybody who might have seen the vehicle between those hours," Gandjean said. "This would include the Troutdale area near I-84, as well as Fairview and Wood Village."

Police towed the SUV away as part of their investigation.

"The window was busted out, the backseats were down and there was mud on the tires and the car wasn't like that this morning," Clint said Tueday.  "It's highly irregular for her to disappear without any communication.  I just hope and pray somebody saw something and that we'll hear from them soon."

A family friend also told KGW that several transactions were made on Heichel’s debit card, including at ATM machines and three different gas stations.

They said that gas station attendants at one of those locations -- a truck stop in Troutdale - remembered seeing her SUV and said Heichel was sitting in the passenger seat with a man driving. They said the man was acting suspicious and hurried, buying only a small amount if gas.

About 30 friends, family, and members of her Jehovah's Witness church have been searching for Heichel, along with police.  They were also posting "Missing Person" posters around the area that showed photos and described Whitney as 5-foot-two-inches tall and weighing around 120 pounds.

Download/print 'Missing' poster - Whitney Heichel

Grandjean said 24 detectives were assigned to the case from Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Multnomah County, Oregon State Police and the state crime lab. He said updates on the search would be provided in daily press conferences.

He also said Starbucks and Walmart had contributed numerous man-hours and large amounts of video to help support police in the investigation.

Interactive Map: Last known locations of Whitney Heichel's vehicle (click on map)

 

 

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