Eight days after teenager Ashley Murray was last seen at her house in Peconic, the Southold Police Department says it’s working hard to locate her, though they say less information is pouring in from the public and the number of local places to search is dwindling.
In an interview with The Suffolk Times Tuesday morning, Police Chief Martin Flatley and Captain Frank Kruszewski said the search for the 16-year-old Southold High School student has extended beyond the length of any missing persons investigation in their time with the department.
“[There’s never been one] this long or drawn out,” Chief Flatley said. “They’re found the same day most of the time.”
He said there’s no evidence Ashley has contacted friends and family or visited any social media sites since she was last seen by her brother shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25. Ashley was alone with her brother in the family’s house on Spring Lane when she left at the time she normally leaves for school, but she never boarded her school bus that morning, Chief Flatley said.
Nobody has heard from her since.
“Her reluctance to contact friends and family has made this investigation more challenging,” Chief Flatley said. “We’re hoping she’s with someone else and that she’ll soon reach out to someone.”
Southold Police have partnered in the investigation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI, the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Chief Flatley said investigators have looked into leads from as far away as New Jersey and have also followed reports of possible Ashley sightings in Water Mill and East Islip. Police say they also looked into a possible connection with a 26-year-old Sag Harbor man who disappeared last week but was later located in New York City. So far none of the leads have checked out, the chief said.
Chief Flatley is still asking that anyone with information on Ashley’s possible whereabouts contact police at 765-2600. He said many of the tips received to date have been from friends informing police of places Ashley liked to hang out. More than two dozen isolated locations nearby have been searched thoroughly using police dogs, he said.
Because of the rural location of the Murray home, which is surrounded by trees and is in close proximity to creeks and the bay, Suffolk Police canine and aviation units were brought on early in the search process, he said.
Chief Flatley also said police went door-to-door in Ashley’s neighborhood, even searching vacant summer homes and nearby barns.
Suffolk Police and the FBI have been involved in forensic searches of computers and cell phones. The FBI’s behavioral science resources have also helped aid the investigation, Chief Flatley said.
State police and the FBI were used to interview Ashley’s estranged father in upstate New York last week and they ruled out a possible connection to her disappearance, Chief Flatley said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent Lee Manning, a veteran missing persons investigator from Massachusetts, to aid in the investigation last week. A second investigator from the organization, a retired NYPD detective, is also joining the search effort, Chief Flatley said. NCME is authorized by Congress to perform programs and services to assist law enforcement and families of missing or sexually exploited children, their website states.
“[Mr. Manning] is one of the top experts in his field,” the chief said.
Mr. Manning has been networking with other experts from around the country throughout the investigation, Chief Flatley said.
“[They’re discussing] where she’s likely to be and what she’s likely to be doing,” he said.
The involvement of the District Attorney’s office has centered around the need for subpoenas to investigate phone and computer records. They also can help secure search warrants, the chief said.
Chief Flatley said he’s open to the idea of public search parties aiding in the investigation, but so far has asked the public to focus instead on handing out missing persons fliers.
“The problem is once someone goes into an area it becomes contaminated,” he said, adding that human searches can decrease the effectiveness of canine units.
Moving forward, Chief Flatley said, police will continue to focus on interviewing friends and family and developing more leads to her possible whereabouts or if she left the area with someone else. He said there are no other active missing persons investigations in the town.