GRESHAM, Ore. -- At a press conference Thursday morning, police revealed they had recovered several items while searching Dodge Park and Larch Mountain for a Gresham woman missing since Tuesday morning.
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.
Police said on Thursday that they were also reviewing video from locations where Heichel's vehicle had been, and that the video had been helpful in the investigation.
Heichel was reported missing Tuesday 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 returned to search again at Larch Mountain Thursday.
They also said her vehicle had been to Larch Mountain Dodge Park. The Gresham chief cautioned that the items seized at those locations may or may not end up being evidence tied to the case.
Her 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, Ritmiler said. She's sunshine in our hearts, She's gentle, she's compassionate.
If you can think of the nicest person you know, that s Whitney, she said of her daughter, There s just nothing bad in her. She had no bad habits. Shee didn t hang our around with bad people. She was so in love with her husband. She loves her family. And she s out there, so please help us find her.
Clint Heichel tried to address reporters at the Thursday press conference. After several tries, he walked away disconsolate and unable to speak.
Investigators said Heichel left for work at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday but never arrived. She works five minutes from home.
Heichel's husband Clint said Whitney kissed him goodbye in the 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 with tinted taillights and Ore. license plate 189EJZ, was later found outside the Walmart in Wood Village at 11:17 a.m., according to the police timeline. The SUV's passenger side window had been broken out, investigators said.
Police are interested in speaking to anybody who might have seen the vehicle between those hours, in particular in the areas between Walmart and the service stations. This would include the Troutdale area near I-84, as well as Fairview and Wood Village, said Lt. Claudio Grandjean with the Gresham Police Department.
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. 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. (See Missing Person poster at right.)
Police did not say why Dodge Park had become the focus of their search.
Grandjean said 24 detectives have now been assigned to the case from Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Multnomah County, Oregon State Police and the state crime lab.
Police are asking anybody who might have seen Heichel or her vehicle to call the Gresham Police tip line at (503) 618-2719 with any information.