Children playing in an apartment complex in Oregon found a cell phone that apparently belongs to missing 21-year-old woman Whitney Heichel.
Parents of one of the children told ABC affiliate KATU 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 cell phone," 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 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 ABC News affiliate KATU.
Ritmiller said she last saw her daughter 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.
Ritmiller said her daughter's nickname within the family is "Mama," because she's always been motherly figure to everybody, including her six siblings.
Whitney Heichel's husband, Clinton, only managed to utter a few words as he attempted to make a statement, but broke down and left the podium.
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.
Police said they recovered potential evidence during searches of Dodge Park and Larch Mountain on Wednesday and Thursday. Police used red tape to mark where they found broken glass and tire marks in the heavily wooded area near Heichel's home.
In a briefing on Thursday afternoon, Gresham Police Department spokesman Lt. Claudio Grandjean said investigators found "some important items" during their search, although he would not elaborate. Grandjean said that tips have been pouring in with about two dozen reported to police on Thursday and 21 on Wednesday.
The police have labeled Heichel's disappearance "suspicious."
"Generally speaking, stranger-on-stranger crime is not very common," said Grandjean.
Clinton Heichel has said she kissed him goodbye and left for her job at Starbucks just before 7 a.m. Tuesday. Her commute to work was just five minutes from home.
Heichel reported his wife was missing at 9:56 a.m. after her supervisor alerted him that she did not show up for work.
"I called her several times," Heichel said Wednesday. "I texted her several times and then actually at about 9:30ish, her phone got to the point where you would call and it went straight to voicemail."
Police say surveillance cameras recorded her vehicle pulling into a Shell gas station around 9 a.m. and her ATM card was used.
Her husband said bank records show the same card was used at another gas station minutes later.
"One at 9:22 and then one at about 9:30, which was kind of odd, both for gas eight minutes apart," Heichel said.
Heichel's Ford Explorer was found abandoned in a Walmart parking lot hours after her disappearance. The passenger side window had been shattered.