The Brockton Enterprise

February 20, 2004

Investigators say Murray probably left in another vehicle

By Elaine Allegrini, Enterprise staff writer

HANSON The 21-year-old college student who disappeared after a minor car crash in New Hampshire last week probably left the area in another vehicle, investigators said Thursday after a search near the crash scene failed to produce evidence she had walked into the woods.

Police say they have considered that someone whom Maura Murray knew was traveling with her in another vehicle, but that remains unknown. She is a junior at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Feb. 9 disappearance widened Thursday when the FBI joined the probe at the request of New Hampshire State Police. FBI agents spent Thursday morning interviewing Murray's mother, Lauri Murray, at her Hanson home.

"They want to talk to everybody that knows her, any clue," said a distraught Lauri Murray. "We're pushing, now, two weeks and there's not a word or a sign of this girl."

Maura Murray excelled in academics and sports at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, went on to the West Point military academy and left after a year and a half to pursue a nursing degree at UMass, where she was on the dean's list.

"She's a very academically talented, gifted student," said Jim Daley, Whitman-Hanson basketball coach and social-studies coordinator. "She's very organized, very diligent. She was a steady-eddy, very consistent, very focused, a lovely young girl.

"It's more than sad, it's tragic," added Daley, a Hanson resident who is hopeful Murray will let people know she is safe.

"She definitely was very responsible," said her boyfriend, Army Lt. Bill Rausch, a West Point graduate who has been in New Hampshire since last week with his parents and Murray's family.

From a small motel over the Vermont border, the families have been searching the area, keeping in touch with investigators and talking to the media.

Rausch said he cannot explain Murray's disappearance in the rural area where she has climbed mountains and vacationed with her family.

Her father, Fred, of South Weymouth, and older brother, Freddy, also searched the woods along Route 112 in the past week and have not found any footsteps to indicate she had been there, Rausch said.

The family has established a Web site with photographs of Murray, hoping someone will recognize her.

"She has that intense radiant smile in every photo," Rausch said. "She's such a radiant, happy girl that you just can't help falling in love with her."

He said his parents, who drove from Ohio to join the search, feel the same way.

Rausch said Murray was excited about the challenges she faced in a new semester at school after they spent the holidays together. Her desire to follow her parents into the medical field prompted her transfer from West Point to UMass, he said.

Although they are separated because of his military assignment in the South, Rausch said he and Murray spoke regularly, sharing a cell phone account.

"We talked about marriage quite a bit, when we were going to be engaged," Rausch said.

He said he received a voice mail from Murray on the afternoon of Feb. 9.

"Regardless of why she went up here, I'm certain that she wanted me to know," he said in a telephone interview from the Vermont motel. "She told me she missed me, she loved me."

She also asked him to call her or, if she did not hear from him, she would call him again, he said. The call never came.

Now, Rausch and Murray's family call her cell phone many times each day, but she does not answer. The calls go to voice mail. They also access the voicemail, but he said, there are no messages related to her disappearance or her whereabouts.

New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarinza said investigators are as frustrated as Murray's family and friends. He hopes the FBI will uncover some information to shed some light on her disappearance while New Hampshire state and local police continue their probe.

"We're trying to learn as much as we can about what Maura was thinking, who she may have for friends or why she may have headed north," Scarinza said Thursday.

He was in the area Thursday for the ground and air search of the area along Route 112 where Murray was briefly seen after crashing her vehicle and urging a witness not to contact police.

There are several houses along that stretch of the otherwise lonely road that Murray could have gone to for help, Scarinza said.

If she entered a vehicle to get away from the scene, as police believe, they wonder if she knew the driver or if she went with a stranger.

There is also new information indicating that Murray may have intended to leave school for longer than a week.

"Clearly, her intention was to leave school for, at this point, a destination unknown," Scarinza said. "Why she went through Haverhill is unknown."

Many of her belongings had been packed and left behind in her dorm room at the school, Scarinza said after talking to campus police.

The school newspaper, The Daily Collegian, also quoted a classmate who said Murray's room was packed like she was planning to move out.

Murray was believed to have a single room in the dorm, school spokesman Patrick J. Murray said.

She was also quiet and did not socialize with other students, according to a report published in the school newspaper.

On the day she disappeared, Murray e-mailed the art gallery where she worked and her teachers to say she would be gone for a week to attend to a family emergency, Scarinza said.

Although there have been reports that Murray may have been suicidal, that she had a family problem during the weekend before she disappeared, those close to the young woman said she was upbeat and did not have a history of depression.

She had crashed her father's car in Amherst on the Saturday night before she disappeared, but Rausch said it was nothing serious, that she skidded on ice. Police, however, said it was a significant accident.

A witness at the New Hampshire crash site said she appeared to be impaired by alcohol. Police have not provided information to support that, but Lauri Murray said she believes there was some wine in her daughter's car, though she is unsure if it was open or broke when the two airbags deployed in the crash.

That is not an issue, Lauri Murray said, as she tries to cope. Her son Curtis, 15, remains with her at the family home after spending several days searching the New Hampshire woods last week.

Police have scaled back the ground search after making a third and larger sweep through the area Thursday, Scarinza said.

"That's not the case for the rest of the investigation," he said.

The search for Maura Murray will continue in New Hampshire and in Massachusetts, both on an official and personal basis.

"If Maura is not contacting us because she's unable to, we most certainly don't want her to give up," Rausch said. "We won't give up. Our mission right now is to find her."