Boston Herald

February 16, 2004

Page 4

Missing woman's dad: Searchers waited

By Marie Szaniszlo

Police in New Hampshire waited 36 hours before launching a full-scale search for a University of Massachusetts nursing student who vanished last week after crashing into a snowbank, according to the woman's father.

"I'm getting more scared by the hour," Maura Murray's father, Frederick, said yesterday from a motel near the Vermont state line. "Time could be running out for her. People just don't vanish."

Haverhill police and paramedics looked for the 21-year-old Hanson, Mass., native shortly after 7 p.m. Feb. 9, when an elderly couple reported that a car had crashed near their home on a sharp turn on Route 112.

But it was not until two days later that a state police helicopter, search-and-rescue dogs and New Hampshire Fish and Game officials began an intensive search because Haverhill police assumed she was likely a drunken driver who had left the scene, they told Frederick Murray. A witness whose help she declined told police she appeared to be intoxicated, and a bottle of alcohol was found in her car.

Tracking dogs ultimately lost her scent within 100 feet of the accident, leading investigators to believe she hitched a ride.

Since then, Murray's family, her boyfriend and his parents have driven from New Hampshire to Vermont to Maine, distributing fliers with her photograph and a plea for anyone with information about her whereabouts to call state police.

Until then, why she left remains as much a mystery as where she went. A star athlete who majored in engineering at West Point for three semesters, Murray transferred in 2002 to UMass-Amherst, where she regularly made the dean's list.

Last Thursday, she received an "upsetting" phone call at the art gallery where she worked, her father said, but he did not know what it concerned. That Saturday, she got into an accident with his car, and called her boyfriend Sunday in tears.

The next day she sent three e-mails: one to her boyfriend saying she wanted to talk and the others to a professor and the gallery saying she would be away for the next week to resolve some "family concerns."

Then she withdrew a few hundred dollars at an ATM and left for the White Mountains.