June 7, 2011 in City

Seeking clues in daughter’s disappearance

Heather Higgins has been missing since September
By The Spokesman-Review

Heather Higgins has been missing since Sept. 20. She was last seen at her apartment at 10th Avenue and Cherry Street in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

To help with reward

Donations for a reward to help find Heather Higgins can be made to Spokane City Credit Union, P.O. Box 9639. Anyone with information on Higgins should call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

For the first few months, Jackie Forney barely slept.

She handed out fliers, knocked on doors, visited transient camps and worried incessantly about what may have happened to her daughter, Heather Higgins, who was last seen Sept. 20 at her apartment complex on Spokane’s lower South Hill.

The drive to Spokane from her Stevens County farm home became routine.

Now, nearly nine months later and as a police investigation continues, Forney isn’t losing hope that the nerve-racking fear consuming her will end.

“I love her with all my heart, and I’m not going to give up. But I’m just at a dead end,” Forney said. “People say, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through,’ and I say, ‘well, try to imagine what my daughter’s going through. … Try to imagine how a missing person would feel.’ ”

Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department, said detectives have no additional information to release in their ongoing investigation, which she said is still considered a missing persons case.

Detectives investigating decades-old missing person cases have often classified them as homicide investigations because no sign of the person was ever found, and people don’t just disappear. Those situations mirror Higgins’ disappearance.

The Eastern Washington University student was last seen near an apartment complex at West 10th Avenue and South Cherry Street, where she had lived for 10 years. Her apartment was undisturbed, and her cellphone and bank account haven’t been accessed since that day, Forney said.

Forney said her daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had checked herself into Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for mental health treatment Sept. 15 because of stress. Forney talked to her on the phone each day afterward, and Higgins appeared to be doing fine. Friends and neighbors said the same thing.

But Higgins was vulnerable – she wasn’t driving because she knew the dangers of doing so when she was having “an episode,” Forney said.

The mother worries someone may have taken advantage of her. She said her daughter often helped transients in the area and was very outgoing with just about anyone.

Suspiciously, someone broke into Higgins’ apartment when she was at the hospital and stole her money. The burglary remains unsolved.

Forney last talked to Higgins Sept. 19. She called her on Sept. 21 but didn’t receive an answer. She sent her son to Higgins’ apartment Sept. 23, but no one had seen her. Nothing was unusual inside her apartment, except for her two crying cats. One, a kitten, found a new home in the country. But Forney is taking care of the older cat, Roamie.

“That cat grieved,” she said through tears. “We’re all just grieving all over the place. My heart is so broken.”

Police first suspected her daughter may have committed suicide, Forney said. But Forney says she never would have done that. If she did, why hasn’t her body been found? A news release from police about Higgins’ case in early October said she was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant and was “possibly an alcoholic.” Forney fears people may not have taken her case seriously because they viewed Higgins as a third-class citizen.

Forney has undertaken her own investigation as she searched for her daughter. She maintains a Facebook page about Higgins’ case and has updated informational fliers with several pictures of Higgins, who turned 40 on April 10. Though she doubts their validity, Forney has talked with psychics, whom she says have picked up on bad vibes in the neighborhood.

Forney has even disguised her appearance to make it easier to explore her daughter’s neighborhood undetected. She’s overcome fears to approach seemingly unsafe areas to ask questions.

“I’m just an old Christian lady from the country,” she said. “Coming down here to look for my daughter has been a real culture shock.”

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