LITTLETON — Thirteen years might have passed since the sudden disappearance of Maura Murray, but the quest to find out what happened to her is no less diminished.
“She vanished in what seems was the blink of an eye,” said John E. Smith, a private investigator from Bethlehem. “We are still searching for answers to resolve this case and bring closure for the Murray family.”
Smith was among those who organized a remembrance and informational discussion Saturday at the Littleton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 816.
It brought together dozens of area residents wanting to learn more and show support for the Murray family.
Among them was Chris Macaulay, of Franconia, who on Feb. 9 of each year, the day Murray disappeared, puts up posters around town.
“It reminds people she is still missing and there are still no answers,” said Macaulay. “I really feel it’s time to have an answer. No one should have to wait this long.”
On Feb. 9, 2004, Murray, 21, who was a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, drove north into the White Mountains after emailing her college instructors, falsely, that she was taking time off because of a death in the family.
That evening, the 1996 Saturn she had been driving eastbound was found on the sharp curve near the Weathered Barn on Route 112 in Haverhill, with a rag in its tailpipe, after it had struck a snowbank.
A school bus driver reported finding a woman at the car and asking if she needed help, but she declined. When police arrived, Murray was gone.
Police, who said there were bottles of alcohol and signs she had been drinking in the car, reported no evidence of a struggle or footprints leading into the woods.
Murray, a hiker of the White Mountains, had been traveling toward Bartlett, where her family had vacationed. Like her disappearance, however, her ultimate destination remains a mystery.
Theories abound as to whether she staged the accident and ran away to a new life, was suicidal, fled into the woods and succumbed to the elements, or met with foul play and was murdered.
Murray’s father, Fred Murray, who was among Maura’s family members attending Saturday’s event, believes the latter, that she was not suicidal and was instead abducted in a crime of opportunity. Both Fred Murray and Smith have been very critical of local and state police and what they say are inconsistencies in police reports.
The biggest question at this point, said Smith, is why there was a 13-minute delay before police called the fire and EMS departments.
“There are inconsistencies and inaccuracies that have been driving us crazy for the past 13 years,” he said.
A search, too, did not begin that night, and when it finally did, more than a day later, it was not made in the area east of Bradley Hill Road, in the direction Murray had been heading, said Smith.
“I don’t think this case was taken seriously enough,” he said.
In 2005, Fred Murray, who has also criticized local and state police for treating his daughter’s disappearance as a missing persons case and not as a crime, unsuccessfully filed suit against N.H. law enforcement in an effort to access the case files that remain under seal.
Murray disappeared in an area where Haverhill police’s jurisdiction soon ends and that of N.H. State Police begins.
Local and state police have not commented publicly on the case, and state police have referred all questions to the office of the N.H. attorney general.
In 2014, on the 10-year remembrance of Murray’s disappearance, Senior Assistant N.H. Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said there have been no credible sightings of Murray since that February night in 2004.
In 2009, the case was transferred to the N.H. State Police Cold Case Unit.
Last year, a petition was launched to encourage the FBI to take a more active role in the case.
That petition now has 6,000 signatures, said Smith.
He said he sent it to the Boston headquarters of the FBI six times, but has yet to receive a response.
Fred Murray said he believes answers will only be found if the FBI takes it over and cracks what he said has been a code of silence.
Saturday’s discussion also included Boston area podcast creators Tim Pilleri and Lance Reenstierna, who run The Disappearance of Maura Murray podcast, which has more than 30 episodes and many interviews.
A production company is also involved in putting together a documentary about the case, said Smith.
Fred Murray, Smith and many others hope a renewed interest in Maura’s disappearance will lead to answers and end the mystery.
Inside the VFW Saturday was a box asking those attending to share any tips, thoughts, ideas, concerns or information, anonymously if they want.
During a break, the group stepped outside for the reading of a prayer and the release of balloons.
“We release these balloons to express our love and dedication to you, Maura,” said Annie Searle, of Bath. “For truth and perseverance to prevail in finding the answers to this mystery and for hope and faith that the day will come soon when we will bring you home.”
The NH Cold Case Unit can be reached at 603-271-2663 or firstname.lastname@example.org .