03/08/13 5:05pm
03/08/2013 5:05 PM

Ashley Murray, the Peconic teen who went missing Feb. 25, touching off a massive search that lit up the social media world and involved agencies including the FBI, is on her way to a hospital for an evaluation after appearing with an unidentified adult friend at Southold police headquarters at 3:15 p.m. Friday, police said.

The teen was interviewed by police for about an hour and 15 minutes before being taken to a “regional hospital,” said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.

She said little about where she was during her absence, he added.

“She didn’t give a lot of information,” said the chief. “She was reluctant to say where she was.”

He added that police believe she was a runway, not abducted, and remained on the East End.

[Related: Relief and joy on social media for Ashley's safe return]

Reached at her family’s home, her brother Jamie Cradehl, said he hasn’t had time to process the news of his sister’s return.

“I’m waiting for everything to sink in,” he said.

He added that when the family asked Ashley if they should join her at the hospital, she said no, that she needed time by herself.

Ms. Murray was reported missing after failing to turn up at school that Monday morning. The ensuing search was unprecedented for the North Fork with police seeking assistance from other public departments, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Chief Flatley said that while the search is over, the investigation is continuing.

On the question of charges being filed, he said. “There’s always that chance. That’s what we have to look for.”

But he sees no reason to charge Ashley.

“We have look to see if there’s anyone else who should be looked at or might fit into a criminal charge, perhaps others who assisted her in remaining out of view,” he said.

Asked if the police interviews answered the questions on why she left and where she went, the chief said, “Not in their entirety, no.”

Southold Junior-Senior High School principal William Galati said he received a call about Ashley’s return about 4 p.m.

“We’re very excited, and I’m glad to hear that she is safe,” Mr. Galati said, adding that others in the school and the surrounding community will feel the same way.

“We have a caring, compassionate, educated community,” he said. “They express such great love and great care for these kids.”

tkelly@timesreview.com

With Carrie Miller and Jennifer Gustavson

 

03/07/13 2:45pm
03/07/2013 2:45 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | A Suffolk County Police Crime Lab van at the Murray family home on Spring Lane in Peconic Wednesday.

The mother of a missing Peconic teen said Thursday that she believes her daughter’s fighting spirit is keeping her alive 10 days after she disappeared.

In her first media interview in a week, Charlotte Murray said she doesn’t want to give up hope that her daughter will return.

“She’s headstrong,” Ms. Murray said of the missing 16-year-old Southold High School student. “She’s a fighter.”

Ashley Murray was last seen by her brother shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, police said. That morning she left a handwritten “suicide note” in her bedroom and sent text messages to several friends saying she might end her life, her mother said.

Southold Town police focused their initial investigation on searching Ashley’s neighborhood, using canine, marine and aviation resources from the Suffolk County Police Department. They later focused their efforts on interviewing friends and family members and examining phone and computer records, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said.

State police, the FBI, Shelter Island police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have all aided in the investigation.

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | A detective with a Suffolk Police Crime Lab officer, shown wearing rubber gloves and carrying a flashlight, on the scene Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Southold Police detective returned to the Murray home on Spring Lane, bringing along the Suffolk Police Crime Lab unit. Emerging from the home wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves, crime lab officers were seen by reporters carrying a camera and flashlight and loading up a van before departing. It was unclear if they removed any items from the house.

Chief Flatley said there were “no dramatic finds” during the Crime Lab search and that it did not alter the investigation.

“In a case like this that would be a normal procedure because that’s where she lived and the last place she left that day,” Chief Flatley said of the search. “We do know she was in her house [the morning she disappeared].”

He called the Crime Lab search “standard for any missing persons investigation.”

“We have not changed the direction of our investigation, it’s the normal workup of the location,” he said, adding that Wednesday was the first time Crime Lab officers visited the house.

Ms. Murray spoke Thursday about rumors in comments on social networking sites and other media websites. Though she said she hasn’t seen them herself, she said she was made aware of some of the online remarks.

“I was told there is a lot of crazy stuff out there,” she said.

Ms. Murray utilized the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home” Thursday afternoon to make an appeal to her daughter to return home.

“I want to write something myself,” she told The Suffolk Times. “In case she is logging on under a fake name.”

Ms. Murray later posted the following message:

“My Dearest Ash, my li’l Ash, my shadow, my courageous one. You are far more braver than I ever was. I do however have only one request, that you somehow let someone know you are OK. You can write home or type away. Do you remember our secret password? The one word between us? Send a note without a return address. Email me. Remember I will never allow anyone to hurt you, however, I can’t protect you unless I know where you are. You will always have a place to come home to. Never in a million years will I ever turn my back on you. My every thought is with you, yet I feel so helpless and sad. I’ve talked to plenty of people in this similiar situation and time again have heard of happy endings. Very doable. No one makes me laugh quite the way you do and God only knows, I need to laugh. Please email the one word. I love you Ashley.”

Anyone with information should contact Southold police at (631) 765-2600. Information will remain confidential.

With Tim Kelly.

gparpan@timesreview.com

03/01/13 4:00pm
03/01/2013 4:00 PM
Ashley Murray, 16, has been missing since Monday.

Ashley Murray, 16, has been missing since Monday.

Update (4 p.m. Friday):  Southold Town police on Friday updated the media on its efforts to locate missing teenager Ashley Murray of Peconic. Police acknowledged Ashley may have left her home “with intentions of harming herself,” something authorities had not stated publicly before.

Investigators said they’ve interviewed over 30 family, friends, acquaintances and “concerned citizens” throughout New York State, and searched more than 25 “geographical areas of interest in Southold Town alone.”

Southold Town police are working with several other agencies, including the FBI, state police, Suffolk County Police Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Shelter Island Police Department, according to the release.

Police “are committed to continue this extensive investigation and have always encouraged all members of the public to contact our department with any information as to Ashley Murray’s whereabouts.”

Police can be contacted at (631) 765-2600.

THURSDAY COVERAGE:
Before Brianne Catapano and Rachael Hornstein met up Thursday afternoon across the street from their high school, the two Southold natives had been only acquaintances.

Within a few hours though, a common interest brought them closer: They both want to find their friend, Ashley Murray.

The pair joined dozens of others Thursday, spending the afternoon handing out fliers across the North Fork, hoping to raise awareness of Ashley’s disappearance. The 16-year-old from Peconic has been missing since 8 a.m. Monday, according to Southold Town Police.

Ashley’s mother, Charlotte Murray, learned her daughter was missing after receiving a call from school officials. She later found a note from her daughter, which she called a “suicide note” and said it made reference to a “watery grave.”

POLICE RESPONSE

Law enforcement officials are expected to hold a press briefing Friday to report the steps they’ve taken since Ashley’s disappearance, which Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said includes calling in the FBI and personality profilers.

Southold Police initially employed a marine patrol, its canine unit and a Suffolk County Police helicopter to perform a physical search Monday morning, but later focused their investigation on the possibility that she may have left the area. They then ended the active local search Monday afternoon and began to concentrate on examining phone and computer records, and interviewing close friends and family, police said.

Police did not release an official missing person report until Wednesday morning, more than 50 hours after Ashley’s disappearance. Law enforcement officials said Ashley’s case does not fit criteria for an “Amber Alert,” since she is not believed to have been abducted.

FRIENDS SEARCH

The lack of an Amber Alert did not stop local residents from conducting their own searches and using social media to reach thousands of concerned web surfers from across the country.

“I want her to come home,” Rachael said as she walked down Front Street in Greenport, holding a stack of fliers.

“We all do,” said Ms. Catapano, who scheduled a search party Thursday to find her friend of four years. She organized the event through her Facebook page “Ashley Come Home,” which was followed by over 2,400 Facebook users as of Thursday night.

More than 40 local residents met across the street from Southold High School to participate in the search. Ms. Catapano originally wanted the group of volunteers to search under bridges and along the waterfront, but those plans were altered after Southold Town police asked that they focus their efforts on handing out fliers instead.

Ms. Catapano told the crowd that police feared a search party could contaminate evidence. She then asked them to break into groups and hand out fliers from Riverhead to Orient.

“We just want to spread as many fliers around and make sure her face is known so if anyone has recognized her they can come forward,” Ms. Catapano said.

The last time she spoke to Ashley, who is a sophomore at Southold High School, was about a week ago and she said they planned to hang out this week.

“It’s been very hard,” Ms. Catapano said. “I haven’t gotten much sleep.”

Ashley is 5-foot 4-inches and 140 pounds with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes, her mother, Charlotte Murray, said. She was last seen wearing red sweatpants “four sizes too big,” black boots and a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood. Police added that she has a scar on her right wrist and wears hearing aids in both ears.

Ms. Catapano and several of Ashley’s friends and classmates have said Ashley, who they say was bisexual, was often bullied in school because of her sexual orientation.

“People knew she was depressed and still made fun of her,” Ms. Catapano said. “It’s very sad.”

Cora Small, 14, said she decided to join the volunteer effort because she misses her friend who helped her fit in at school.

“She’s nice and accepts people for who they are,” Cora said. “This just crushes me.”

SCHOOLS REACT

Superintendent David Gamberg said some of Ashley’s friends who attend school in Greenport received suicidal text messages from her Monday morning. Those students notified their school social worker, he said, who then contacted a social worker at Southold High School. Mr. Gamberg said the district then immediately contacted the Southold Town Police Department and has been cooperating with police since the investigation began.

Greenport High School principal Leonard Skuggevik said Thursday the district is “incredibly proud” of its students and staff’s quick response.

“They are currently organizing their ideas to assist in the search and we are talking with the Southold Police Department to ensure each idea will be helpful and not harmful to their investigation,” he said.

In December, Greenport schools hosted Todd Lauderdale of the national anti-bullying program “Rachel’s Challenge,” which is based on the writings of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

Following his presentation, Mr. Lauderdale helped the district form a student group that pledged to surround themselves with positive role models and become kinder to their peers — especially special needs, new and picked-on students — in an effort to deter bullying.

In an interview with The Suffolk Times Thursday, Mr. Lauderdale said he was pleased with how Greenport students handled the situation by notifying school officials and described Ashley’s disappearance as “tragic.”

“These are the very things we’re trying to combat and prevent from happening,” he said.

Mr. Lauderdale said while his group promotes proactive anti-bullying steps in schools, it also encourages students to seek help if they are in need.

“If kids are struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or feeling isolated, counseling through the school or independent professional help is crucially needed,” he said.

Mr. Gamberg said this week that Southold High School has been encouraging students to speak with counselors since Ashley’s disappearance.

FATHER’S PREVIOUS ARREST

Ashley lives in Peconic with her mother and her older brother. She has been estranged from her father, Kenneth Payne of Shelter Island, since she was an infant, according to a 2004 New York Times story. Mr. Payne served six years in prison for the 1998 shooting death of his neighbor, Curtis Cook, court records show. Ashley was 18 months old at the time of the shooting.

Mr. Cook, a long time friend of Mr. Payne’s, had been arrested two weeks before his death and charged with sodomizing an 8-year-old girl, the New York Times reported. Mr. Payne told investigators at the time that Mr. Cook had threatened Ashley and her mother on the night he was killed, court records show. Mr. Payne was later acquitted following an appeal.

Ms. Murray won a court battle over the custody of Ashley after her father was released from prison, according to state records.

jennifer@timesreview.com

With Grant Parpan, Paul Squire and Tim Kelly

02/28/13 8:00am
02/28/2013 8:00 AM

A screenshot of the Facebook page called Ashley Come Home.

Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” in 1962 to describe how our world was being transformed by electronic technology and its ability to carry information anywhere in an instant. Could he have envisioned back then how accurate his assessment would prove to be five decades later?

Did he imagine the rise of the Internet and the more recent phenomenon of social networking? The evolution of the specific systems is less noteworthy than his accurate description of the direction we were headed.

For proof, look no further than this week’s search for a 16-year-old Peconic girl who went missing after she left home Monday morning but never made it to school. The case is following two non-parallel tracks: the police investigation and the sharing of information and comments on social media. With the exception of issuing a missing persons report, investigators are conducting their search in relative quiet. That’s standard police procedure — and it works. But in the age of Facebook, there’s a not entirely separate approach that deputizes virtually anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone.

Will that help the investigation? It’s too early to tell. Will it hinder the search? We certainly hope not, but this is uncharted territory, on the North Fork at least, and there are no real local precedents to refer to.

Given all the fear and anxiety surrounding the disappearance, it comes as no surprise that many online commenters are taking what appear to be unjustified pot shots at the police. But this is not “CSI” or a similar television show where each case is wrapped up in less than an hour. Police work is often quite time-consuming and rarely provides immediate results. On Tuesday, Southold Town police took the unusual step of issuing a missing persons report with the type of poster — bearing the girl’s name and photo — usually associated with more suburban and urban settings. And that’s where social media can provide valuable assistance.

Did anyone see her, hear from her, receive a text from her? That’s the type of information needed to help find Ashley Murray and, we hope, return her safely home.

Keep Ashley in your thoughts and prayers with the hope that police and their digital deputies can bring the case to a happy conclusion.