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Family mobilizes, joins search for Whitney

Whitney Heichel
Whitney Heichel
When former Brookings resident Whitney Heichel, 21, disappeared last week, family members and friends from the Brookings area immediately traveled to Gresham to aid her immediate family, congregation and authorities in the search effort.

The family’s efforts ultimately helped authorities find Heichel’s body – in a remote forest area east of Gresham – on Friday, and the arrest of the woman’s 24-year-old neighbor for investigation of aggravated murder, authorities said.

 

On Tuesday, family spokesman and Whitney’s uncle Todd Stark, of Brookings, delivered a statement to the Curry Coastal Pilot.

“As we mourn the loss of an amazing human being, Whitney Heichel, who was a loving wife, daughter grandchild, sister, aunt, niece and friend, and as we comfort the grieving husband, Clint Heichel, who stood as a pillar of strength, courage and unfailing love, a portrait unfolds that reminds us of the true test of a family’s value in the face of unfathomable adversity,” the statement read.

The statement recounts the details surrounding the initial disappears of the young woman and the finding of her body.

Heichel was found on Larch Mountain, a remote, forested area east of Gresham, on Friday. She was reported missing three days earlier.

After collecting DNA and fingerprints and conducting three interviews over the ensuing three days, Gresham police arrested Jonathan Holt, 24, of Gresham, on Friday for investigation of aggravated murder, the chief said.

Holt lived in the same apartment complex as Heichel and her husband, Clint.

Police said autopsy results would not be released Saturday and sought to derail speculation that Holt’s relationship with Heichel was anything more than as an acquaintance.

“There is no evidence that has surfaced in the investigation leading investigators to believe there was anything more,’’ according to a police news release.

According to the family’s statement and police reports, Heichel, a Starbucks barista, reportedly left her apartment for work at about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday on a drive that typically takes less than five minutes.

Her husband called police roughly three hours later. He told investigators he tried to reach Whitney multiple times after her boss alerted him that she never arrived for her 7 a.m. shift.

As police launched an investigation, Clint contacted family and friends in Brookings.

“Eight family households from the Brookings community joined Clint in the search for Whitney,” the family statement read. “The initial search by Whitney’s family and friends led police to Whitney’s car at a Wal-Mart in Gresham as well as the first location that detectives searched – an area called Dodge Park.”

Police said Heichel’s ATM card was used at a nearby Troutdale gas station at 9:14 a.m. Tuesday. Two hours later, family and friends discovered her sport utility vehicle in a Wal-Mart parking lot with the passenger side window smashed.

A child later found her cell phone in a field that lies between the gas station and the Wal-Mart, giving investigators another venue to search.

According to the family statement, “As the police force was diligently processing the Dodge Park area for clues ... family members were brainstorming and theorizing where Whitney might be. Family and friends listened to those ideas and found clues that would alert detectives to the Larch Mountain, a 60-minute drive from Whitney’s home. ...”

The family’s search team had discovered a license plate and other “items of interest’’ on Larch Mountain, Junginger said.

Police had been searching Larch Mountain since Wednesday, believing that Heichel’s SUV was driven there.

Detectives interviewed Holt on Wednesday and Thursday before arresting him during a Friday night interview, the chief said.

There were “many inconsistencies’’ in Holt’s interviews, Junginger said.

Additional crime lab evidence received Friday morning tied him to Heichel’s vehicle, the chief added.

Stark explained that Whitney had lived in Brookings for a brief period, attending Brookings-Harbor High School for one year several years ago. Whitney, he said, would visit Brookings every summer, attending the annual Woosley Family camping trip along the Chetco River.

“In retrospect, Whitney will be profoundly missed, fondly remembered by all and her life will be celebrated because of her enduring faithfulness, her love, happiness and integrity to her God, husband, family and friends,” Stark wrote.

“Many thanks go out to the many area businesses that supported the search ... and not to be forgotten is the incredible value of Whitney’s family. They brought Whitney home,” he said.

– Reports by the Associate Press also contributed to this story.

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