The Patriot Ledger

May 24, 2004

Coping pains families of the missing: Says mother of Molly Bish, it's ‘like a bad movie'

By Joe McGee

Magi Bish remembers the ‘‘fragile Fridays,'' an end-of-the-week prayer ritual of asking God for one more week of strength to continue looking for her missing daughter, Molly.

And Maureen Lemieux will never forget going to bed and not wanting to wake up when her 10-year-old granddaughter, Holly Piirainen, went missing.

With the search for Maura Murray more than three months old, times also have turned desperate for family and friends of the 22-year-old Hanson woman who disappeared on Feb. 9 in Haverhill, N.H. There is no trace of Murray. Her ATM and cell phone have been dormant. Woods have been searched by ground and air several times.

Bish and Lemieux, who lived through the same anguish in two of the state's highest-profile missing person cases, said the need to know what happened is indescribable.

‘‘Evil is what this is,'' Magi Bish said. ‘‘It's like a bad movie and you can't get out, and the fear when you don't know what happened, it can make people cross over. I fought the mental monsters every day.''

Maura Murray's family has traveled to New Hampshire countless times. Every weekend they make the four-hour trek from the family home in Hanson to New Hampshire to canvass rural woods and interview people they have never met in hopes of finding any scrap of information.

Bish said it is hard to explain how someone makes it that long with little hope of seeing their child alive again. Investigators last spring found Molly Bish's skeletal remains 5 miles from the Bish home in West Warren. Molly had been last seen in June 2000 at Cummins Pond in Warren, where she worked as a lifeguard.

Magi Bish and her husband, John, devised their own coping mechanism during the three years of not knowing Molly's fate.

‘‘We had what we called ‘fragile Fridays.' If we got through one more week, we knew we could do it again the next,'' Bish said.

Maura Murray's father, Fred Murray, has been the most active figure in the search for his daughter. His public criticism of police, his consultation with a psychic and his compulsive hikes to New Hampshire are all symptoms of the aching quest to know what happened, Maureen Lemieux said.

Lemieux's granddaughter Holly Piirainen was found dead about two months after being abducted from her family's summer cottage in Sturbridge in August 1993.

‘‘Mostly my son went out,'' Lemieux said. ‘‘They took ATVs, four-wheel-drive vehicles, whatever they could do up in the woods, looking around. They went with psychics. You don't want to leave any stone unturned. If somebody thought they had an idea, you went with it. If there was a psychic or anyone that sounded reasonable, we left immediately and searched.''

The Bish family has spoken to Fred Murray and offered their support. Magi Bish said she identifies with Fred's tireless spirit. It is all you have in a situation like this, she said.

‘‘If you're a ‘doer,' and Fred sounds like he is, you just go. I'm sure it's hard because they live so far away, but you just do it. You're never prepared,'' Bish said.

As the weeks pass, the frustration grows for investigators.

New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Thomas York said police have followed up on every piece of information. Detectives are still active on the case, but the ground searches will be discontinued until a credible tip comes along. York said he realizes they may never find Maura.

Recently New Hampshire state police found the remains of Steven Romines, a Massachusetts man who disappeared in the White Mountains 20 years ago. It can take that long, York said.

‘‘We're coming to the end of what we can possibly do,'' York said. ‘‘I hope that things turn out for the best for Maura, I really do.''

Reality is also setting in for Murray's college friends in Amherst that they may never see her again. Kate Markopoulos, a track teammate of Murray's at UMass, said she is getting classmates' E-mails addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch after she graduates. Markopoulos was taking finals last week and packing to return home to upstate New York.

‘‘I think it'll hit me after I graduate because I'll start calling people and I can't call Maura,'' Markopoulos said.

‘‘She was one of the people I planned on keeping in contact with after school, especially because she loved where I'm from because it's near the Adirondacks. She loved hiking,'' Markopoulos said.

Joe McGee may be reached at