Mother of missing Ore. woman: 'She's sunshine in our heart'

GRESHAM, Ore. -- The mother of missing 21-year-old Whitney Heichel made an emotional plea to the public on Thursday to help find her daughter.

At a media briefing at Gresham City Hall, Lorelei Ritmiller said she was speaking out to both show support for Heichel's husband Clint and to reiterate that Heichel is beloved in her tight-knit community. She implored anyone with information to call police.

"She's sunshine in our heart," Ritmiller said. "She's gentle. She's compassionate ... She's this compassionate laughing person. Her heart's as big as the sun ... This is just a great human being. This is a person you'd think no one could ever hurt."

Ritmiller said Heichel was at her house on Monday, the night before she disappeared. The family was preparing for an upcoming wedding. She said her daughter was talking about her future, noting her desire to be a mother.

"That was her biggest hope -- to have babies," she said.

After Ritmiller spoke, Heichel's husband made his way to the podium. After showing little emotion while family spokesperson Jim Vaughn, Gresham Police Department Lt. Claudio Grandjean and Gresham Police Chief Craig Juninger addressed the media, Clint Heichel reached the podium and broke down in tears.

After being comforted by Juninger, Heichel eventually left the podium without giving a statement.

Whitney Heichel went missing Tuesday after she failed to arrived at her job at a nearby Starbucks. Gresham police called her disappearance "suspicious" and Grandjean reiterated that again Thursday, citing the nature of her disappearance.

"Generally speaking, stranger-on-stranger crime is not very common," Grandjean said.

Still, investigators have several theories they are working through, but all possibilities remain open, Grandjean said.

Whitney's Ford Explorer was found abandoned at around 11 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of the Wood Village Walmart at 23500 N.E. Sandy Boulevard. The passenger side window was smashed and the tires were muddy.

Investigators searched Dodge Park in Clackamas County, along with Larch Mountain. Grandjean said investigators will continue to canvass the Heichel's neighborhood and search again at Larch Mountain.

Investigators have also pulled and reviewed video in areas of Wood Village, Fairview and Troutdale where they think Heichel was Tuesday morning.

"We've found video that's been helpful for us," Grandjean said, although he refused to comment further on specifics.

Grandjean said tips have been pouring into the police department's tip line, saying that 25 new tips came in Wednesday yesterday.

"The evidence and leads have not gone cold," Grandjean said. "The goal is to find her."