Vigil lets friends, family mourn their loss

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO/ JIM CLARK - Starbucks workers comfort one another at the Saturday night candlelight vigil for Whitney Heichel. The family of Whitney Heichel said late Sunday that they were “shocked” to learn that murder suspect Jonathan Daniel Holt had attended meetings of their Jehovah’s Witness congregation.

A statement released by a family friend said the Heichels were devastated by the crime and would take “a long time” to heal.

Holt, 24, a neighbor of 21-year-old Whitney Heichel and her family, was lodged in the Clackamas County Jail on an aggravated murder charge. He was arrested Friday and faces arraignment Monday in Clackamas County Circuit Court.

Here is the family’s statement:

We were completely shocked to find out that Jonathan Holt, an irregular attendee of our meetings, was arrested and would be in any way tied to this case as a suspect. Jehovah’s Witness regard life as precious, a gift from God. We had no indications that would lead us, prior to this event that he would be capable of being involved in what is alleged to have happened. We have no knowledge of the events that led up to what took place with the disappearance of Whitney and know none of the details of what took place after her abduction. We will await the authorities' investigation, and fully cooperate with them as they work through this numbing and disturbing case. Our local congregations especially feel the pain. So many families have been severely impacted by this senseless act of violence committed against our daughter, sister, and friend. Jonathan’s wife is too an innocent victim, and our love and support is as strong for her and her family. It will take a long time for her to heal. With God’s help, and assistance from our brothers and sisters, we will recover and use our experience to help others.

Friends mourn

The statement was released just a day after family, friends and others gathered at a Gresham Starbucks where Whitney worked to mourn and celebrate her life. It had still been less than 24 hours since the community learned of the tragic end to the three-day search for Whitney Heichel. And for everyone, the grieving process had just begun.

Tyler Eaton, who Heichel trained when he started working at Starbucks, put his arms around two other co-workers, and on a crisp October night, they embraced. In the middle of their close circle one friend held a candle, illuminating their faces and the tears they didn't bother to fight.

For several minutes they said nothing. They just cried.

Surrounded by roughly 350 mourners at a candlelight vigil to remember Heichel, whose body was found by police Friday evening on Larch Mountain, the few words they could muster were all that needed to be said.

“I became a better person because of her,” said Eaton, who along with about 20 of Heichel's co-workers, helped organize the ceremony.

In the days following Heichel's disappearance early Tuesday morning, stories of her kindness, her innocence, her heart-warming stare swept over the town and resinated throughout the community.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO/ JIM CLARK - Jennifer Weimer, left, and Amy Knight take part in the Saturday night candlelight vigil for Whitney Heichel. Weimer lives a short distance from the Starbucks where Heichel worked and was a regular customer.Saturday was the first opportunity for people to unite since learning of Heichel's death, and the arrest of Holt on an accusation of aggravated murder.

Together, hundreds grieved.

They held candles, sang “Amazing Grace” and wore yellow, in order to symbolize optimism and hope.

And in the crowd many shared memories of the bubbly 21-year-old.

Four years ago, Emily Wolfgang trained Heichel at Buffalo Wild Wings and immediately the two became close friends. Later, Heichel left to become a barista at Starbucks, but she made sure to get Wolfgang a job there, as well, so they wouldn't have to be far apart.

“We laughed a lot together,” she said. “She was always fun. She was always fun to talk to and hang out with. She was always happy — happy, happy girl.

“I love her a lot.”

Earlier that morning, another memorial was held.

About 15 people gathered for a moment of silence outside the same Starbucks at 7 a.m., the time Heichel regularly showed up for work, until Tuesday

Two or three times a week Heichel handed Jamie Worley a latte. The two never shared more than a quick, casual conversation, but in that time, Heichel's personality still glowed.

“She would just look at you and she would always make eye contact, like she saw through you,” said Worley, who organized the morning service. “She had this joy just bouncing off her face. You never saw her when she was frowning or upset. She always seemed so happy to be at work and happy to see you. You don't get that very often.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO/ JIM CLARK - Jane Woitach takes part in the Saturday night candlelight vigil for Whitney Heichel, held at the Starbucks where she worked. Woitach lives in the apartments near where Heichel's cell phone was found. Police found Heichel's body on Larch Mountain on Friday.The small group huddled around one bouquet of flowers sitting on a table outside Starbucks early Saturday morning. But the crowd and the bouquet grew tenfold by nightfall.

That evening, in front of the display, Heichel's co-worker, Matthew O'Connell, looked out to all who had amassed and offered a few words about the woman everyone had come to know.

“The light of these candles signifies the light she brought to everyone around her,” he said. “And as we blow out these candles tonight, let's keep that light in our hearts.”

KOIN Local 6 contributed to this news story.

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