February 20, 2004
With no new leads, FBI joins search for missing student
By Peter DeMarco
The FBI has joined in the search for missing college student Maura Murray, but without a single lead in the nearly two-week old case, New Hampshire authorities said the additional investigators might not make a difference.
Murray, a 21-year-old Hanson native and nursing student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, vanished the night of Feb. 9 after crashing her car into a snowbank on a rural road in Woodsville, N.H.
Police in helicopters and with their dogs searched the area for a second time yesterday, but with no evidence that Murray fled into the woods, her family and authorities believe she either hitched a ride and is on her own, or was abducted.
Missing persons cases are typically handled by local and state authorities unless a federal crime has been committed.
So far, investigators have found no evidence that Murray was kidnapped or taken across state lines.
Nevertheless, at the urging of Murray's father, Fred, New Hampshire State Police are now working with Boston-based FBI agents on the case, officials said.
Though police have questioned many of Murray's family members and friends, FBI agents will probably return to UMass-Amherst and Hanson for further interviews and background checks, said Lieutenant John Scarinza, commander of State Police Troop F.
"We're now at the phase where we need to learn more about the week before Maura headed north," he said. "If any friends or associates or classmates had any discussions with her about her wanting to come up north, or places she'd like to visit, or important destinations, we'd like to hear from them. Maybe that would help us understand where she went, or why."
Hours before she departed for New Hampshire on Feb. 9, Murray e-mailed a professor and her part-time campus job to say she was heading home for the week because of a death in the family, according to school officials and the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, a student newspaper.
Withdrawing $280 from an ATM, she loaded her Saturn with clothing, a book, and a stuffed toy monkey and headed to New Hampshire, where she had frequently hiked with her father. She told no one of her plans.
About 7 that evening, she lost control on a sharp bend on Route 112 in Woodsville. Unhurt, but appearing to be intoxicated, she refused help from a motorist who offered assistance and was gone when police reached her car about 10 minutes later, officials said.
Fearing that Murray may have been taken across state lines and unaware of any major issue she might have been struggling with, her family urged the FBI to get involved.
Woodsville is about 5 miles from the Vermont border and about a two-hour drive from New York, Maine, and Canada.
Fred Murray, who is scheduled to appear on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" today to discuss his daughter's disappearance, said the FBI involvement is a good start, but not enough.
"They're saying the FBI is in, but that's a very limited scale," he said. "I'd like to see the best case scenario -- agents crawling all over the place up here."
Scarinza said investigators, including detectives at UMass-Amherst, share Murray's concerns. At the same time, he cautioned that people sometimes escape to the White Mountains without telling their family or friends.
"She's an adult. If you want to go on vacation for a few weeks, you have a right to do that. But even the FBI is not going to go to California to see if she's on vacation there," he said.
"Hopefully, by the close of [today] we will have talked to everyone at least twice within a reasonable radius of the area. We're talking 5 miles, give or take," he continued. "There's no evidence of a struggle near or around the car. No witness says there was an altercation. No evidence that any criminal offense has happened to her. Yes, she's missing. It's frustrating for the family. And law enforcement officials are frustrated too. We have no idea where she is."