When Mattituck resident Michael Barnett visited his neighborhood 7-Eleven Friday evening, he became overwhelmed with joy.
Not because it had stopped snowing at that point, but because he learned that Peconic teen Ashley Murray, 16, returned home earlier in the day.
“Thank God she’s OK,” Mr. Barnett exclaimed, standing inches away from the missing person flier the convenience store posted on its entrance last Wednesday.
When told by a reporter Southold Town police said Ashley she didn’t appear to have been abused or harmed, Mr. Barnett teared-up, grasped his flannel shirt near his heart and said: “You’ve made my day.”
“My wife and I have been following this story very closely online,” said Mr. Barnett, a parent. “I’m so glad she’s home.”
Rena Wilhelm, who owns White Weathered Barn in Greenport, described herself as being “glued” to her computer following the investigation unfold on news sites and the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home.” Ms. Wilhelm said she “almost stopped breathing” when she learned that Ashley had reappeared.
“I don’t even know her, but I want to hug her,” she said.
Since the Southold High School sophomore was reported missing since Feb. 25, Ms. Wilhelm said she had noticed herself losing patience and being short with people as she spent most of her time waiting for new news about Ashley’s whereabouts.
“The whole thing has been unsettling, especially because it’s so close to home,” she said. “I’m just so happy she’s safe.”
Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg said Friday evening he believed the community pulled together in the hope that Ashley would return and he anxiously awaits the day when he might see her walking the school’s halls like any other student.
“I can picture her saying good morning,” Mr. Gamberg said. “A simple thing, but don’t take it for granted.”
Andrea Esposito, owner of NoFo Wellness Center whose son attends Southold High School, said she was relieved to learn from a reporter that Ashley was found.
“I can’t even image what the family has gone through,” Ms. Esposito said as she recycled plastic bottles at King Kullen supermarket in Cutchogue Friday night. “We’ve all been concerned. This is a blessing.”