The Patriot Ledger
February 20, 2004
FBI seeking clues to disappearance from Hanson family
By Joe McGee
Boston FBI agents have joined in the search for Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts student from Hanson who disappeared more than a week ago after an accident on a snowy New Hampshire road.
New Hampshire search and rescue teams, meanwhile, made one last attempt at searching the mountainous, rural area of Route 112 in Woodsville, N.H., where the 21-year-old was last seen on Feb. 9.
For reasons that remain unclear, Murray had driven to northern New Hampshire that day from the UMass campus in Amherst, where she went to school.
Authorities have suggested from the information they have that Murray may have run away and doesn't want to be found, while family members say she may have been kidnapped.
The terrain in the area where she was last seen is rough and wooded, and the National Forest Service has warned that anyone lost there in the winter cold could perish.
Police, however, said they still consider Murray a missing person, while they don't believe foul play was involved in her disappearance.
‘‘What we asked the FBI to do was to do a background investigation, talking to family members, so hopefully we can generate ideas as to what she was thinking or where she was going. Other than that, we're doing all we can,'' Lt. John Scarinza, commander of New Hampshire State Police Troop F, said.
According to police, sometime before Feb. 9, Murray downloaded directions to Burlington, Vt., from her dorm room computer. She sent an E-mail to her professors and place where she work saying she needed a week off because of ‘‘family problems,'' and left Amherst with $280 cash and a few personal items.
At about 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, the car she was driving hit a snow bank in Woodsville, a town near the Vermont border on Route 112, which locals call Wild Ammonoosuc Road. She refused help from bystanders and was gone when police in the rural town arrived.
At the accident scene, there were no footprints left in the snow and bloodhounds could not pick up her scent.
While there may be clues suggesting Murray wanted time alone and away from campus, family members believe someone picked her up from the accident scene. Running away isn't like Maura, they said.
‘‘She would've contacted someone, her boyfriend or someone. I can't see her running away. She knows how I worry,'' Lauri Murray, Maura's mother, said.
The only personal problem Murray had recently was that the accident was the second vehicle accident she had had in three days. Friends said little things like that might set off a focused person like Maura, a former standout athlete and honors student at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School who attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for a year.
‘‘Top notch. She was one of my brightest students,'' said John Souther, Murray's advanced placement calculus teacher at Whitman-Hanson.
Souther offered to help family members search in New Hampshire this week, one of many who have called the family to lend their support.
Erin Devine, a George Washington University student and high school classmate of Maura's, said she is doing what she can from Washington, D.C.
‘‘I haven't lost hope. I've been working with a criminal psychology professor. We talked about it all day during class today and we're trying to do something about it. I called the police up there and even the U.S. Embassy in Canada,'' Devine said.
Although Murray's father has expressed concern that not enough has been done to help find his daughter, police said they have followed procedures normal to investigating a missing adult case.
Scarinza said search efforts began 36 hours after the accident. That may seem like a long time, but it was for good reason, he said. Witnesses reported that Murray was drunk and so it was thought she fled the scene to avoid arrest. A further complication, authorities have said, was that the vehicle was registered to her father, not her.
‘‘With all those facts, it's not unusual that the person wanted to leave and did not want to be found,'' said Scarinza.
Crews fanned out for three days in the mountainous region before the search was called off.
A dozen people resumed the search yesterday on foot and in a helicopter. Scarinza said that was more than enough manpower to scan the rural terrain.
It was likely the last time a search crew will venture into the woods. If Murray had wandered off the road, finding her would be easy because there is about 1½ feet of snow on the ground, Scarinza said. and it has not snowed since Feb. 9.
Anyone with information that might help investigators is asked to call state police at 603-846-3333, or Haverhill police at 603-787-2222.