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GRESHAM, OR (KPTV) -
Whitney Heichel's husband broke down in tears while her mother described the missing Gresham woman as having a heart as big as the sun.
The family spoke at a press conference Thursday morning. Investigators said they received 25 tips Wednesday in this case, along with 21 more overnight. They continued pouring in Thursday.
Police classify the 21-year-old's disappearance as suspicious.
"The leads and evidence we have gathered have not gone cold and so we continue to push forward until we find Whitney," said Gresham Police Lt. Claudio Grandjean.
Investigators updated the case at 4 p.m. Thursday with a far briefer press conference.
During the afternoon press conference, Grandjean took questions about possible scenarios in this case.
Grandjean said, in general, stranger-on-stranger crimes are unusual.
"We still don't know if we have a crime," he said, later adding, "we really don't know the nature of this yet."
But friends are adamant that Whitney Heichel would not leave her family willingly.
"I can safely say that I don't think anyone of the family or any one of our friends feel that, even thought that for a moment," said Jim Vaughn, a family friend. "That would be so far out of character for Whitney that would not even cross the family's mind."
Whitney Heichel was scheduled to work a 7 a.m. shift Tuesday at an East Gresham Starbucks on Northeast Burnside Road, but never showed up. The coffee shop is a two-minute drive from the apartment she shares with her husband, Clint Heichel.
"She got dressed this morning, normal everything. Kissed me goodbye, said goodbye," her husband Clint Heichel said Tuesday. "That was 6:45 this morning."
SEARCH FOR CLUES
Clint Heichel said his wife hasn't responded to text messages or phone calls, which is unusual behavior for her.
Crews canvassed Dodge Park and Larch Mountain Wednesday and were back at the mountain Thursday.
Investigators said they recovered evidence in both places, even some "important items," but did not elaborate further.
Grandjean said they were confident Whitney Heichel's SUV had been in those areas.
Detectives have said her black 1999 Ford Explorer with tinted taillights and an Oregon license plate 189 EJZ may have been in the east Multnomah County area, east of Gresham and possibly into Sandy, between 6:45 and 11 a.m. Tuesday.
At some point, the vehicle had its front passenger-side window broken out
Police are pulling surveillance video from multiple locations and said it's been helpful, but it's a time-consuming process. They did not comment on any specifics about what they've seen on the video.
Whitney Heichel's mother spoke at Thursday morning's press conference. She said she saw her daughter the night before she disappeared.
"It just hurts to breathe right now, but we just want to find her and we're not going to stop," said Lorilei Ritmiller.
She said Whitney Heichel's nickname among family members was "momma," because she's like a second mother to so many people.
Ritmiller also said her daughter didn't hang out with bad people and Whitney Heichel loved her husband very much.
Clint Heichel attempted to speak at the morning press conference, but broke down in tears. He attended the afternoon press conference, but did not speak.
A family spokesman said their faith as Jehovah's Witnesses is helping them stay positive.
"We know Whitney. Whitney loves who she is, loves the people around here, loves our congregation, loves our association," Jim Vaughn said. "Whitney, again, she's just part of the family."
If you have seen Whitney Heichel or saw her vehicle before it was recovered or have any information about this case, call the Gresham police tip line at 503-618-2719.
• At 6:45 a.m. Whitney Heichel left her apartment at the 700 block of SE Highway 26 to go to work.
• At 7 a.m. Whitney Heichel was supposed to be at work at Starbucks in East Gresham near Powell and Burnside, approximately five minutes from her home. She did not arrive.
• At 9:56 a.m., Whitney Heichel's husband called 911 to report her missing.
• At 12:30 p.m., friends and family reported that Whitney Heichel's ATM card was used at the gas station. Detectives have since verified that the card was used and her vehicle was indeed at the station at 9:14 a.m.
• At 1 p.m., family and friends that were looking for Whitney Heichel and distributing flyers, found her vehicle parked at the Walmart in Wood Village at 23500 NE Sandy. The vehicle's passenger side window had been broken out.
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