Who is the man accused of murdering Whitney Heichel?

Who is the man accused of murdering Whitney Heichel? »Play Video
Jonathan Holt, the man accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a young Gresham woman, is seen in wedding photos from nearly two years ago. Used with permission from the photographer.

GRESHAM, Ore. - New details are emerging about the man accused of sexually abusing and then shooting a young woman to death in a crime that has shocked the community.

Jonathan Holt, 24, is behind bars in connection with the murder of 21-year-old Whitney Heichel, who left for work in the early morning hours of Oct. 16 and was found dead days later.

According to a probable cause affidavit written by the officer who arrested Holt, Holt waited outside Heichel’s apartment on the morning of October 16 and asked her for a ride.

Heichel, who knew Holt, obliged. But about five minutes into the ride, police said Holt pulled out a handgun and forced Heichel to drive to Roslyn Lake in Clackamas County.

Court documents state that Holt told police he asked Heichel for a ride that morning at the Gresham apartment complex where they both live. The two were acquaintances but nothing more.

Holt told police that just minutes after he got into Heichel's vehicle, he pulled a gun on the woman, forced her to drive to another location, sexually assaulted her and then shot and killed her.

Who is Jonathan Holt?

At this point, much of Holt's life remains somewhat of a mystery but there is some information that is coming to light.

Holt is married and has been for nearly two years.

Remembering Whitney

Whitney Heichel's memorial will be for family and friends only but the family will be holding a public open house at the Salquist Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Gresham on Friday. Everyone is welcome to stop in between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. All they ask is that you do not bring in any cameras or recording devices.

Last year, he was involved in an incident where he was accused of disappearing with a friend's rental car. A police report was filed about the car and Holt's wife told officers she wanted to file a missing person's report.

Holt turned up hours later with the car. He told his friend he had a "mental breakdown" and had gone to a park in Washington to "rethink his life and straighten his priorities." The friend ended up not pressing charges.

What did Holt do for a living?

The Oregon Health Authority confirmed that Holt is certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT). He got the certification in 2010, the same year he was married.

However, when we checked with all three of the ambulance services in the Portland metropolitan area, none of them said Holt was employed by them. So whether he was actually working, or perhaps volunteering, as an EMT is unknown.

What does it mean to be a Jehovah's Witness?

Heichel, her husband, and Holt all went to the same church in Gresham. All three are Jehovah's Witnesses and the murder has some people wanting to understand the church and its beliefs.

The faith, which was started by a man in Pennsylvania, is a relatively new one - it's hardly 100 years old.

Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, but they also have some of their own beliefs. They do believe in Jesus but not the Trinity. They do not celebrate holidays, which they consider pagan. They do not believe in the military service or war but do, however, believe in Armageddon (a judgement day).

There are 7 million Jehovah's witnesses worldwide and their churches are called Kingdom Halls (there are dozens in the Portland area).

Many members canvas neighborhoods and knock on doors for their 'pioneer work.' This is part of what they do to spread their message.

"A lot of people are sometimes annoyed by us coming to the door," said Dane Leong, a Jehovah's Witness. "We're just trying to give a message that we believe in hope for the future and the world isn't always going to be in as bad a state as it is now, with war and everything."

Members say there are a lot of negative stereotypes about their faith.

"I'm hesitant to use the word, but a lot of people would say 'cult,' " Leong said. When asked how that made him feel, he said "that's just based on not enough knowledge of my religion."

On a side note, we learned that one of the reasons that the church was so successful in finding clues about Heichel's disappearance at remote locations is that one of its members is experienced in search and rescue operations and guided the effort.

What can you do if someone threatens you?

Self defense experts say that as terrifying as it might be, we should all think about what to do if threatened and attacked. When you are panicked, your heart is racing and you can't think straight. But you can think through a strategy that might help you get out alive.

Caroline Haycraft, a self defense instructor, said she was not surprised to learn that Holt knew Heichel because most of the time an attacker is someone we know. They earn our trust over time so that we feel comfortable with them. And then they make their move.

Once you realize you are in trouble, perhaps stuck in a car with a gun in your face, try to keep calm. Take deep breaths, mentally list your options, and look for a moment when your attacker might be distracted to make a break for it. And don't be afraid to make a scene.

Haycraft said getting away could mean slamming on the brakes and even wrecking the car to get out. And if you do make a break for it, keep screaming and running. The goal should be to get as far away from the attacker and weapon as possible.