(GRESHAM, Ore.) — Children playing in an apartment complex in Oregon found a cellphone that apparently belongs to missing 21-year-old Whitney Heichel.
Parents of one of the children told ABC News affiliate KATU-TV that the children found Heichel’s phone in bushes outside the Troutdale Terrace Apartments Thursday evening. The family says the phone had a screensaver of a picture of Heichel and text messages asking if she was okay.
“I was pretty shocked. I mean I knew right away … I recognized the face,” April Fletcher, the mother of one the girls, told ABC News.
“[The kids] started flipping through some of the text messages … from [her] uncle, and there was one from Scott that was trying to find out ‘where are you. Are you OK?’ So I mean it just kind of confirmed it to me that it was her cellphone,” she said.
The apartment complex is about four miles away from Heichel’s home in Gresham, Ore. Police have not said whether the phone belongs to Heichel.
Hours before the phone discovery, Heichel’s mother, Lorelei Ritmiller, urged people in the Portland area to keep looking for her daughter, who she described as the “sunshine” in her heart.
Ritmiller spoke of her missing daughter at the Gresham city council chambers on Thursday as investigators continued to search for clues after she went missing Tuesday.
“She’s gentle. She’s compassionate …She’s this compassionate laughing person. Her heart is 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, according to KATU.
Ritmiller said she last saw her daughter on Monday, the night before she disappeared. She said her daughter was talking about her future and the desire to start her own family.
“That was her biggest hope — to have babies,” she said.
On Thursday, police searched a wooded area nearby and examined the surveillance video at a gas station that captured Heichel’s black Ford Explorer around 9 a.m. the day she disappeared. Police said they have also interviewed the gas station attendant, but would not elaborate on what was said.
Investigators have not released any specifics about the video or who was driving the vehicle. Many other businesses have provided police with security footage, reported KATU.
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