HAVERHILL, N.H. -- Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, the family and friends of a missing Massachusetts woman released blue balloons and tacked a big blue bow to a tree in hopes she would be found.
As police K-9 teams searched for Maura Murray on Saturday, that blue bow was still tacked to the tree her car struck on Route 112 the night of Feb. 9, 2004, a stark reminder that she is still missing.
The hope that Murray is still alive is waning, and family and friends now want closure.
Murray was a 21-year-old University of Massachusetts at Amherst nursing student driving west on Route 112 in Haverhill when she lost control of her black 1996 Saturn as it rounded a sharp left-hand curve near The Weathered Barn and crashed.
Butch Atwood, a school bus driver who lived just up the road from the crash scene, was on his way home in his bus when he found the Saturn off the road.
Atwood said he spoke with Murray and offered to call for help, but she declined. He went to his house to call EMS anyway. When Haverhill Police Sgt. Cecil Smith arrived about 10 minutes later, according to Atwood, Murray was gone.
She has not been seen nor heard from since.
As five K-9 teams searched six areas of interest within 5 miles of the crash scene on Saturday, Maura's sister, Kathleen Carpenter of Hanover, Mass., waited anxiously at a lodge at Mountain Lakes off of French Pond Road.
"I want closure," Carpenter said. "It's every day ... you wake up and wonder. My Mom keeps saying she is going to come home. I know in my heart she won't. Something went wrong."
Carpenter spoke about how she and Maura shared a bedroom together while growing up and used to have the normal sisterly fights, like over clothing.
"She was just like me, very trusting," Carpenter said. "She would go up to a total stranger. That's how I believe she was taken advantage of. She was too trusting."
Police dog teams, including Connecticut Canine Search and Dukes County Search & Rescue from Martha's Vineyard, along with the New Hampshire League of Investigators, volunteered to search for Murray Saturday and Sunday.
"I don't want this to become a cold case," Carpenter said.
Patty Davidson, who is Maura's third cousin and is from Weymouth, Mass., also does not want to give up hope Maura will be found. Yet, she is realistic.
"I think she met up with foul play that night," Davidson said. "She was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone picked her up and did her harm."
When Maura's father, Fred Murray, arrived Saturday, he spent some time with the investigators being updated on the searches so far.
Getting a chance to sit down, Fred Murray said he was very impressed with the scope and thoroughness of the search efforts.
"It's coherent and they have a plan and they are marching with it," he said. "It's methodical. I am deeply appreciative of the time and effort of everyone. I think they are motivated by kindness."
Murray was hopeful the weekend's search would rule out some possible sites, including area gravel pits and the Mountain Lakes area.
Don Nason, a member of the New Hampshire League of Investigators, said six areas were chosen, including a wooded area near the search site, because of information Fred Murray and other people have provided. He declined to reveal the areas.
Nason did talk about why they were searching a sand pit. He said it is not far from where Maura had her accident and went missing.
"We are not necessarily looking for Maura's remains, but something that belongs to her," he said. "The important thing is to keep [the investigation] going. If someone knows something but is afraid to open his mouth, give [state police] a call. Or contact [Maura's] Web site."
Murray said he will not stop until he finds out what happened to his daughter on Feb. 9, 2004.
"It just doesn't end [for the families]," he said. "So many people go missing every day all around the country."
A brother-and-sister team, Al and Marian Beland, along with their canines Taz and Tracer, were part of the search teams during the weekend.
The Belands have about 18 years experience in search and rescue between them.
"I think we all have strengths and weaknesses and can use them to help people," Marian Beland said. "I am pretty much like a volunteer fire department. I cannot fight fires, but I can search. I want to put our training to good use."
Al Beland said helping find people is part of his personality.
"It is ingrained," he said. "We just want to help. We train hard and we hopefully can bring closure to some of these cold cases. Hopefully, we can find clues that will lead to the successful termination of the investigation."
Back at the lodge, Carpenter said she, Maura and her family used to camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
"I would like to be able to do that again," she said.
Late Sunday afternoon, Nason said the K-9 teams had several hits, but nothing that would warrant forwarding to state police. An area near a dam and a snowmobile corridor in Warren also was searched, he said, but nothing was found and it did not look promising.
Anyone who may have information about Murray is asked to contact the New Hampshire State Police major crimes unit at 603-271-2663 or 800-852-3411.