GRESHAM, Ore. – Police say children playing outside an apartment complex have found the cellphone of an Oregon woman who vanished three days ago under suspicious circumstances.
The cellphone contained text messages asking 21-year-old Whitney Heichel where she was and if she was OK, Gresham Police said Friday. Police didn't say who sent them or whether there was a response.
The children found the phone in a field that includes a network of walking trails, police Lt. Claudio Grandjean said.
Police were notified of the discovery of the cellphone late Thursday afternoon, and were examining it for clues about what happened to the Starbucks barista after she failed to show up for work Tuesday.
"We know we have a nugget in that phone," Grandjean said.
Heichel reportedly left her apartment for work at about 6:45 a.m. The drive to Starbucks takes less than five minutes.
Her husband, Clint, 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.
Grandjean said neither Clint Heichel nor anyone else has been identified as a person of interest in the case, and it's still uncertain whether Whitney Heichel is the victim of a crime.
"At this point nobody has been totally cleared, because we don't know exactly what we have," he said. "But if you're asking if he is a suspect -- no."
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.
The field in which Heichel's phone was found is between the gas station and the Wal-Mart, giving investigators another venue to search.
Investigators planned to continue examining surveillance videos from Wal-Mart and other locations Friday, and wrap up their search of Larch Mountain, a remote, forested area east of Gresham where detectives believe the SUV was at some point Tuesday morning. Police have declined to say how they know it was there.
Heichel is described as standing 5-foot-2, weighing about 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
"When she's been missing for two or three hours, there's a lot of possible, logical explanations," Grandjean said. "When she's been missing for 36 or longer, it's concerning. And the possible explanations are more concerning, and possibly criminal."