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For the parents of many University of Massachusetts students, the start of the school year marks the beginning of a separation period, at least until the holidays. But while some parents are lingering on their child's last goodbye hug, the family of one UMass student is still trying to piece together the disappearance of their daughter from the University campus last winter.
22-year-old Maura Murray, a nursing student, is still missing after 7 months. It was February 9, 2004 when the Hanson, Mass. resident packed up her belongings from her Kennedy Hall dorm room, drove her car to New Hampshire and got into a minor car accident. After the accident, she vanished without a trace. She has not been seen or heard from since that cold February evening.
Maura's parents, Laurie and Fred Murray, have said all along that her daughter had excellent grades. Murray was a Dean's list student a track star in high school, and a close friend to many.
Murray has described her daughter's relationship with her boyfriend, Army Lt. Bill Rauch of Oklahoma as "a very, very good relationship." However, Maura's family and friends suspect foul play was involved in the young woman's disappearance.
Events leading up to her disappearance
There are clues indicating that Maura Murray may have had some personal troubles just before she left UMass.
Maura allegedly left her campus job the Thursday before she disappeared and co-workers described her state as upset and troubled, according to WCVB-TV.
In an interview with WCVB-TV, Maura's older sister, Kathleen Murray of Hanover, Mass., admitted that she had a phone conversation with Maura that evening.
"It was just a regular phone call. It made no difference to me. It was just Maura calling me, that was that. I told her about my day and quarreling with my fiancée," Murray said. "I don't know what I could have done to upset her... Seriously, I think she just wanted to get out of work."
New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarinza is one of the lead investigators on the Murray case. He disputes Kathleen Murray's statement about her sister trying to leave work early.
"It wasn't a case where she called the supervisor and said, 'Listen, I've had a bad phone call...' The supervisor on her own initiative said, 'Why don't you take the rest of the night off? I'll walk you to your dorm.' So clearly she was upset," Scarinza told WCVB-TV.
It was less than four days later when Maura decided to leave UMass. She apparently had some type of plan before for her departure.
In the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 9th Maura performed an Internet search for directions to Burlington, VT and the Berkshires.
"Sometime between Sunday and Monday morning, she packed up all her belongings in her dorm room, to include taking all her pictures off the walls, taking everything out of her bureaus, [and] put them all in boxes [and] left [them] on her bed," Scarinza told WCVB-TV, "[She] left a personal note to her boyfriend on top of the boxes."
Maura Murray's vehicle was then found in the town of Haverhill, N.H. crashed and abandoned on the side of the road. Her doors were reportedly locked and a few items had been removed from her car.
Authorities did not begin their search for Murray until Feb. 11, to the dismay of her parents.
A possible link
It was only about one month after Maura's disappearance when another disappearance of a young woman shocked the northern New England region where Maura was last seen.
17-year-old Brianna Maitland of Montgomery, VT disappeared March 19th after leaving her restaurant job.
About one hour after she left work, her car was found backed into an abandoned barn about 1 1/2 miles away. Her disappearance took place only 90 miles from where Maura was last seen.
The Murray family has publicly said they are not disregarding the idea that there may be a link between the two disappearances.
"If you think about it, both of them had minor accidents and they both disappeared without a trace," Laurie Murray told the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.
Both the families of Murray and Maitland have publicly said they want their respective law enforcement agencies to investigate further if there is a missing link between the two disappearances.
Police are not dismissing the link theory, but have said it is unlikely.
"It's hard to believe you'd have that bad of luck," said Scarinza, "We are open minded to anything, but there is no evidence to suggest the cases are related."
No new leads
On July 13th, a search of the woods was conducted, which involved about 90 people. It covered a one-mile radius from where Maura was last seen.
Officials recovered several articles of clothing, but none of the items found were linked to Murray.
"As of this date, none of the clothing items recovered appears to have belonged to Maura or appear to be linked to her disappearance. Of the miscellaneous items that were located by the searchers to include several bottles and other products, they do not appear to have any relevance to Maura's disappearance," said Scarinza.
Laurie Murray recently reiterated that no new information has been found.
"We continue to never give up hope and we pray," Murray said.
Scarinza said he is hoping someone from UMass might come forward with new information regarding Maura's disappearance. His hope is that Maura did confide in someone as to why she decided to leave school.
"We don't know why Maura left school... Clearly it was her intention to leave school. Clearly she had a destination in mind when she came up north. What clearly did not make sense was that she didn't confide in anyone," Scarinza said.
He went on to say that he is not worried about finding alcohol or drugs if someone were to speak up.
Anyone who has any information about the disappearance of Maura Murray is urged to call New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Robert Bruno. His phone number is 603-846-3333. All calls can remain confidential.