Boston Globe

February 17, 2004

With no word from missing student, family's hopes dim - Kin of 21-year-old suspect foul play

By Ralph Ranalli

For all the questions torturing relatives of University of Massachusetts at Amherst nursing student Maura Murray, one thing is increasingly certain. The fact that she has not contacted them in more than a week since disappearing from a rural New Hampshire roadside, they say, means something is terribly wrong. Murray's father, mother, and boyfriend said yesterday they now believe and fear that the 21-year-old Hanson native is a victim of foul play.

"She is just a skinny, little girl, and I am getting more scared by the hour," Frederick Murray, Maura's father, said in a telephone interview from Woodsville, N.H., where his daughter disappeared Feb. 9 after crashing her Saturn into a snowbank.

Relatives have been searching in and around the small towns near the Vermont border where Maura Murray vanished, posting fliers and interviewing witnesses. As best they can determine, Murray got a ride from someone in a car shortly before police arrived at the accident scene on Wild Ammonoosuc Road, said her boyfriend, US Army Lieutenant William Rausch.

No one saw her do so, but residents on the street saw her standing on the road before police arrived, and search dogs lost her scent less than 100 yards from her wrecked car, Rausch said.

"It seems apparent that she most certainly jumped in a vehicle," Rausch said. "An older couple who lives here put her at [the Saturn] one minute before the police arrived."

Given the preparations Murray had apparently made for a trip, relatives had hoped for much of the last week that she may have wanted to be by herself or that she was too embarrassed to call home after crashing a second car in three days.

At the time she left Amherst, relatives said, Murray had been upset that she had crashed her father's car two days earlier. Before heading north toward the White Mountains, Murray withdrew a few hundred dollars from an ATM machine, packed her cellphone wall charger and her favorite stuffed monkey into her Saturn, and e-mailed her professors to tell them she would not be in class all week because of a "family problem."

But with each passing day, hopes that she abandoned her car, hitched a ride, and continued her journey are fading, her mother said. It would be out of character for her daughter not to call, her mother said. "She knows I'm a worrier," Laurie Murray of Weymouth said.

Also out of character, family members said, were reports from witnesses that Murray appeared to be intoxicated just after the crash. Murray, a former top student and track standout at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, is described by friends and family as a responsible young woman who is very close to her family, particularly her father.

She spent three semesters as a chemical engineer at the US Military Academy at West Point before transferring to the nursing program at UMass.

New Hampshire State Police have opened a missing-person investigation into Murray's disappearance and posted her photo on a national law enforcement database. A spokesman said yesterday there were no new developments in the case.