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New Hampshire investigators announced a large-scale search along a mountainous stretch of road in the cold case search for Maura Murray, a Massachusetts nursing student who went missing after a single-car crash on a snowy night in 2004.
Attorney General John Formella announced the effort Wednesday morning after informing her family.
Murray began her studies at West Point before transferring to the nursing program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, according to her family. She was last seen on Feb. 9, 2004 when a witness spoke with her at the scene of the accident. She was 21 at the time, “shivering” and not wearing a hat.
By the time police arrived, she was no longer there. They found her gloves inside the vehicle.
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It was winter in New England, with snow on the ground.
Wednesday’s search is focused on an area about 5 miles up the road, where another witness reported the possible sighting of a young person “moving quickly” on the night of Murray’s disappearance, according to her sister, Julie Murray.
“This area, Landaff and Easton, is about 5 miles away from where Maura’s car was found,” she told Fox News Digital Wednesday. “And it’s in the easterly direction, the direction she was headed. The other encouraging point to this news is the fact that this was the focal point of a very early search back in May of 2004 from a local tip that stated a local saw a ‘young person running or moving quickly’ along that stretch of road. So for all of those reasons, this is really encouraging news from her family. “
Although Maura Murray may not have been dressed for the weather, her sister described her as a “gifted athlete,” who excelled at distance running and academics and had a “great attitude” toward life. And she said there were signs that some of her last known acts were made with the “future in mind.”
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She’d brought her nursing school textbooks with her in the car. She had turned in her homework earlier in the day. And she had stopped at a Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles location to pick up paperwork she needed for an insurance claim in an unrelated car accident.
But she’d also left without telling anyone where she was headed and told professors she would miss class due to a death in the family that had not occurred.
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“For her to just up and leave without telling anybody was shocking then, just as it is shocking to us now,” Julie Murray said. “We still don’t know what prompted her to leave.”
State police and Fish and Game officials are assisting with the search, focused on a portion of land off Route 112 in the towns of Landaff and Easton, Formella’s office said in a statement. The crash happened further down Route 112 in Haverhill, New Hampshire, at around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2004.
Authorities said the renewed search was “not the result of new information in the case” but part of an effort to revisit previously searched areas more thoroughly.
A spokesperson for Formella’s office said that Wednesday had been chosen just because the timing worked out for all of the required parties. It involves about 35 people from the AG’s office, state police and Fish and Game.
The missing woman’s sister said the family is “very encouraged” by the renewed effort and was not expecting it.
“For a case that’s 18 years old, to have an active, ongoing ground search this far along in what is considered a cold case is everything that we could have hoped for,” Julie Murray said.
But the family is also cautiously optimistic, she added.
“This is not our first rodeo, so we’re used to getting these types of calls, where we have learned not to get too hopeful,” she said. “Because when you get too hopeful, the letdown is really steep. So we’ve learned to balance between hopefulness and hopelessness. We’re just being patient right now. We’ve waited this long. We can wait a little longer.”
The search will cover an area bordering the White Mountain National Forest, Julie Murray said.
The area has few houses, heavy woods, hilly terrain and other hazards, she said.
“If she was on foot, there’s hardly any light,” she added. “Darkness is a main issue.”
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The family has set up a dedicated website with information about the case and advocacy projects at MauraMurrayMissing.org.
When she was last seen, Maura Murray was described as 5 feet, 7 inches tall, weighing 120 pounds with green eyes and light brown hair.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about Maura Murray to call the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit at (603) 223-3648 or email Coldcaseunit@dos.nh.gov.