'She just had such a light. Her spirit was so contagious'

'She just had such a light. Her spirit was so contagious' »Play Video
Family and friends gathered Saturday night for a candlelight vigil outside the Starbucks where Whitney Heichel worked. (KATU photo)

GRESHAM, Ore. – Family and friends remembered Whitney Heichel at a somber vigil Saturday night outside the Starbucks where she worked.

“She’s so good to everybody, she doesn’t deserve this,” said Matthew O’Connell, who worked with Whitney for a year. “The way everything happened, it’s not fair. It’s not fair.”

“Somebody so innocent that would never hurt anybody could get their life taken from them and that’s not fair,” said Haylea Cardwell, who went to high school with Whitney.

The group gathered less than 24 hours after Gresham police announced that they found Whitney’s body on Larch Mountain and arrested a suspect in her murder.

Saturday, Starbucks employees met with a counselor and shared their fond memories of Whitney.

Many who attended the vigil wore yellow scarves to show the hope they once had to find Whitney still exists in a different way.

“We held each other get through it,” O’Connell said. “We still have hope for her family and loved ones.”

A spokesman for Whitney's family released a statement Saturday thanking authorities and community members for their help and support.

“She just had such a light,” O'Connell said. “Her spirit was so contagious.”

Heichel, Ritmiller family statement:

We are profoundly devastated by the loss of Whitney Heichel. She was a loved and valued member of our faith.  No words can express the pain and agony her family and friends are undergoing as we cope with the bewildering loss of Whitney. We will continue to support and help one another in this time of grief. Whitney’s family, friends, and members of our faith draw strength from our God, and his words of comfort found in the bible. The outpouring of support from members of our faith has been such an aid in helping us to deal with the pain and loss of such a wonderful person. For us, this is not a surprise, because this is “what we do” as an organization.

Yet the response we experienced from others has also proved that there many good people in our community. The loving concern from ones that didn’t even know Whitney or her family has deeply touched our hearts. The kind expressions, and support from perfect strangers has confirmed to us that there is much good in people, and this good moves them to display “loving acts of kindness”. And though, while this event in our lives is tragic, we saw the positive effects it has had on this community. The events of the last four days moved people to take action in many ways. The main goal was to find Whitney. With the help of many resources we accomplished that goal. Sadly not in the way we had hoped.

The family would like to express special thanks to those who were especially involved in finding Whitney. First to the Gresham, Multnomah Co, Troutdale, Clackamas, State Patrol police departments, and even the FBI. They did more than their “civic duty”. Our hand in hand experience with Gresham PD, and their staff demonstrated to all of us that they “truly cared”. They wanted to find Whitney just as if she was their own daughter or close friend. 

The family would also like to thank and acknowledge the efforts to those who assisted the police in the search. So many man-hours were spent with one focus, to find Whitney and acquire evidence that would lead to the arrest of the person that committed this horrible crime. They accomplished that, and we are so thankful for your hard work in our behalf.  Whitney’s mom expressed that if she could she would “give a big hug to every single person involved in assisting and supporting the family to find Whitney.” Whitney’s husband was equally moved by all the support shown to him and his family. He said “I cannot believe the love and support shown by police, media the business community and people in general. Words cannot express my heartfelt gratitude”.

We would also thank so many in the local business community. There are really too many to mention in this statement. Yet we would like to especially like to thank the efforts of Wal-Mart and the Starbucks Corporation for their tireless support in assisting the family. And finely we would like to thank the media who gave us such positive coverage right from the very beginning. All of the local TV stations contributed an integral part in presenting and keeping in the minds of all in their audience our common goal to bring Whitney home. Again, from our family we can’t thank you enough.