Police search for missing Portland-area woman

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GRESHAM, Ore. — The mother of an Oregon woman who disappeared Tuesday under suspicious circumstances said her daughter's heart "is as big as the sun" and urged people in the Portland area to keep looking for her.

"It hurts to breathe right now," Lorilei Ritmiller told reporters Thursday while speaking of 21-year-old Whitney Heichel. "But we just want to find her and we're not going to stop."

Heichel was reported missing by her husband after she failed to show for her 7 a.m. shift at a Starbucks in the Portland suburb of Gresham. The drive from her apartment complex to the coffee shop takes less than five minutes.

Police said Heichel's ATM card was used at a Troutdale gas station at 9:14 a.m. Two hours later, her sport utility vehicle was found in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Wood Village with the passenger side window smashed.

Gresham police said at a press conference Thursday that they have interviewed the Troutdale gas station attendant, examined surveillance video and canvassed the neighborhood where Heichel lives. Lt. Claudio Grandjean declined to say if Heichel was seen after 7 a.m., or to say who may have been driving her SUV.

Police said they recovered potential evidence during searches of Dodge Park and Larch Mountain, remote, forested places east of Gresham where they believe the SUV was Tuesday morning.

"There has been property recovered at different locations, but we can't positively say that that property is related to this," Police Chief Craig Junginger said.

Ritmiller said her daughter's nickname within the family is "Mama," because she's always been like a second mother to everybody, including her six siblings. Ritmiller said her daughter is a hard worker, a devoted Jehovah's Witness and her greatest hope is to have children of her own.

"She's wanted to be a mama since she was 2 years old and I brought her sister home," she said. "That was just her biggest hope, to have babies."

Whitney's husband, Clint Heichel, attempted to speak to reporters, but was overcome with emotion.

Grandjean said police received 25 phone tips Wednesday and another 21 overnight. Two dozen detectives have been assigned to the case that has been classified as a suspicious disappearance.

Though he acknowledged that the first 48 hours are very important in a missing-person case, he stressed that the case is far from cold.

"The leads and the evidence we've gathered have not gone cold, and so we continue to push forward until we find Whitney," he said.