After more than three days of searching, police have found the body of a missing Gresham woman and arrested a neighbor for her murder, police announced Friday night.
Jonathan Daniel Holt, 24, of Gresham faces an allegation of aggravated murder in the killing of Whitney Heichel.
Heichel, 21, disappeared at about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, after leaving her apartment to go to her 7 a.m. shift at a Starbucks just two minutes away. She never made it.
Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger during a rare 10 p.m. press conference on Friday, Oct. 19, described Holt as an acquaintance who lives in the same complex, the Heatherwood Apartments, in the 700 block of Southeast Mount Hood Highway.
Detectives identified Holt as a possible suspect on Wednesday, Oct. 17, the same day members of Heichel's church found a license plate and other items on Larch Mountain in East Multnomah County.
Police also recovered some of Heichel's personal belonging in a Dumpster at the Wood Village Wal-Mart where her car was abandoned at 11:14 a.m. Tuesday.
Heichel's family, including her husband Clint, were notified of the arrest and the discovery of her body on Friday night.
"And as you can imagine this was tragic news for them," Junginger said.
Jim Vaughn, a family spokesman, asked for privacy in order for the family to grieve.
"Our loss and heartache is too much to bear right now."
Junginger said the case for police began in earnest just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, with the discovery of Heichel's 1999 Ford Explorer. It's front passenger window was broken out.
By 3:30 p.m. every detective with the Gresham Police Department was canvasing the area and found some of Heichel's belongings in a Wal-Mart Dumpster, as well as in another Dumpster at a nearby shopping center.
Police also discovered information leading them to believe she traveled east into Clackamas County. By nightfall, members of her church group, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, searched the area near Dodge Park in Sandy. There they found more of Heichel's personal belongings.
On Wednesday morning, police canvassed her apartment complex and continued to search Dodge Park. Oregon State Police and the East County Major Crimes Team joined the effort and members of her church discovered a license plate on Larch Mountain.
Later that day, police received information leading them to Holt. He voluntarily talked to police. Thursday morning, police continued the search of Larch Mountain and processed more evidence from her car.
Holt came in for a second interview, in which detectives noted inconsistencies with his story and collected a DNA sample, as well as his fingerprints. Police then received additional evidence tying Holt to Heichel's car.
That night, children playing in a field near a Troutdale apartment complex in the 700 block of Southwest 257th Avenue found Heichel's cell phone. This discovery led to more evidence that further narrowed the investigation's focus on Holt.
On Friday evening, after a third interview, police arrested Holt on an allegation of aggravated murder.
"There is no question that our community has been shaken to the core," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "To say that this case brought fear and anxiety to the community is a vast understatement. As we watched these events unfold Whitney in may ways represented all of our wives, daughters, sisters, friends and loved ones."
Bemis and Junginger praised the collaborative effort of police from many jurisdictions in finding both the victim and the alleged killer. "I have never been prouder," Junginger said, his voice breaking, adding that "these investigators have worked around the clock and have poured their hearts and souls into this case. In my 35 years in law enforcement, this is one of the finest collaborations of police work I've ever seen."
Bemis said Heichel's family has "experienced the unimaginable" given the case's outcome.
"We mourn the loss of a special girl today," he said. "But in the face of this tragedy, we will see justice served."