GRESHAM -- Both Jonathan Holt, the accused killer, and victim Whitney Heichel, attended the same Jehovah's Witness church, the woman's family confirmed Monday.
"We were completely shocked to find out that Jonathan Holt, an irregular attendee of our meetings, was arrested and would be in any way tied to this case as a suspect," the family said in a prepared statement.
The family's statement underlined and applied bold face to the word "irregular." The statement said there was no suggestion through any church activity of a motive to Heichel's murder.
"Jehovah’s Witness regard life as precious, a gift from God," the statement continued. "We had no indications that would lead us, prior to this event that he would be capable of being involved in what is alleged to have happened."
Gresham police announced late Friday that they found the body of Whitney Heichel on Larch Mountain, and they had arrested 24-year-old Jonathan Holt of Gresham in her murder.
Police say Holt was an acquaintance who lived in the same apartment complex as Heichel and her husband. He was arrested on charges of aggravated murder after being interviewed several times by police.
Police obtained DNA and fingerprints from Holt after a second voluntary interview where they noticed many inconsistencies from his first interview. He then came in to the police department for an additional interview Friday and was arrested. At about that same time, detectives at Larch Mountain located Heichel's body. Police did not specify a motive for the murder.
Mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil at a Gresham Starbucks to remember the slain 21-year-old Saturday.
Heichel worked as a barista at the Starbucks at 2233 Northeast Burnside Street in Gresham and had a lot of friends through her church and workplace.
Earlier, police found some of Whitney Heichel's belongings in two dumpsters, one at the Wal-Mart parking lot where her SUV was found and the other at a nearby shopping center. That evidence helped lead detectives to the suspect in her murder.
Police searched at Larch Mountain for a third day Friday. The vehicle Heichel was driving had a missing license plate when it was located at a Wood Village Wal-Mart. That license plate was found at Larch Mountain, and that clue is what led police to search the area where her body was ultimately found.
The Multnomah County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy Saturday but no details were released.
Earlier Friday, investigators said Heichel's cell phone, found Thursday by some children, contained messages from her husband and family, and possibly location data. Investigators said the phone was turned off when it was found Thursday evening by children playing in a field near the Troutdale Terrace apartments at 701 SW 257th. At the time, Gresham police called it "a very favorable find".
The apartment complex where the phone was found is about a mile and a half from the Shell gas station where Heichel's bank card was used the morning she disappeared. It's also about two miles from the Wood Village Walmart where her abandoned SUV was found with the passenger window broken out.
Whitney Heichel, 21, left for work at the Starbucks on Northeast Burnside Street in Gresham at her usual time of 6:45 a.m. but failed to show up. Her co-workers said she has always been very punctual. Heichel's husband called 911 to report her missing at about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Gresham Police said they treated the case as a criminal investigation since the beginning. Crews searched for evidence at Dodge Park in Sandy on Wednesday and every day since Wednesday at Larch Mountain, above the Gorge. They said her vehicle had been to the two locations.
The Gresham police spokesperson, Lt. Grandjean, said Thursday afternoon police found "some important items" at both locations but did not elaborate.
"We are hoping for the best and we're doing everything we can to find Whitney," he said at the time. "We're using every investigative technique at our disposal."
Family spokesman Jim Vaughn joined the Thursday 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."
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.
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 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 Tuesday. "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.
He also said Starbucks and Walmart had contributed numerous man-hours and large amounts of video to help support police in the investigation.
Whitney Heichel was 21 years old.
Interactive Map: Last known locations of Whitney Heichel's vehicle (click on map)