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Investigators searched Albemarle and Nelson counties for 17-year-old Alexis Murphy.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Investigators combed points in Albemarle and Nelson counties as the search for Alexis Murphy stretched into a fifth day with no word of new hope in a case that has stirred people across the country.
FBI agents were posted Thursday night at entrances to the Arden Place apartment complex, where a search dog led authorities two nights earlier following the discovery of Murphy’s car in the nearby Carmike Six cinema parking lot. Authorities also continued to scour the U.S. 29 corridor between Lovingston and Albemarle.
Murphy, 17, left her Shipman home Saturday evening for a shopping trip to Lynchburg and never came back. Some 50 FBI agents, Nelson County sheriff’s deputies and state police have worked to find her since.
For investigators, the early days are critical, said Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler.
“The clock is ticking in a case like this,” he said. The first few days after someone goes missing “is when the case is manpower.”
“Within the first few days, there’s tons of work,” Van Zandt said. “After a week or so, they should have covered the basics.”
Investigators could be expected to be scanning messages on Murphy’s cell phone and social media accounts — she posts prolifically on Twitter, where she has more than 11,000 followers — reviewing credit card statements, looking for clues in her car and examining surveillance video at any place she might have gone.
“What might have happened is anything,” Van Zandt said.
The FBI issued a new flier Thursday that included photos from a surveillance camera at the Lovingston Liberty gas station, the last place Murphy was seen.
Van Zandt said, typically, the FBI “would rather be in[volved with a case] as soon as possible, before trails go cold.” The FBI joined the search Monday.
As anxious family and friends awaited word, people in tight-knit Nelson County organized a candlelight vigil at the high school football field.
School Principal Todd Weidow described Murphy, a senior volleyball player, as a “well-received and well-liked” girl known for her love of fashion.
“Everybody in the community is hoping and praying she’ll come back safely to school and to her family,” he said.
Weidow said counselors would be available for students on the first day of school Monday.
Getting help from the public — a passerby spotted Murphy’s car and reported it to police — is key in cases like this one, Van Zandt said.
“Somebody knows something,” he said. “You may have one fact, but someone else might have another that fits with yours. It’s like the proverbial piece of the puzzle.”
Murphy’s case is not unique, said Amanda St. Clair, a community outreach advocate for Help Save the Next Girl, a group started at Virginia Tech following the disappearance of Morgan Harrington several years ago. Authorities in January 2010 discovered her remains in a field 10 miles from John Paul Jones Arena, where the Tech student disappeared in October 2009. No arrests have been made in that case.
A Google Maps graphic on the Help Save the Next Girl’s website displays 10 such cases, including eight missing women in Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; North Carolina; and Tennessee since 2009.
“That’s a lot of missing and murdered girls in a short time span,” St. Clair said. “To me, it seems like a problem.”
St. Clair said she believes Virginia authorities learned a lot about how to handle a huge influx of tips during the search for Harrington, and she encouraged anyone with any information about Murphy or other cases to call police.
“Don’t feel like your tip isn’t being listened to because you didn’t get a call back,” she said. “They’re prepared to handle a lot of tips.”
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said there is “no evidence at this time to indicate there is any connection” between Harrington’s case and Murphy’s.
Online commenters have asked why one tool, the Amber Alert system, has not been used in Murphy’s case. Van Zandt said that likely had to do with Murphy’s age.
“An Amber Alert suggests this is a child we know is in absolute danger,” he said. “But a 16- or 17-year-old with a car is able to leave.”
Word about her case has continued to spread nonetheless — not only on social media, in newspapers and on the airwaves, but on the road.
Murphy’s grandfather, Tony Taylor, worked with his employer, Prince George-based Old Dominion Truck Leasing, to reach out to members of the trucking industry across the country.
“We embrace his family as ours,” said Buzz Ryder, Taylor’s manager at the Old Dominion maintenance shop, where Taylor has worked for about three years for the small, family-owned business.
Ryder said a company leader stayed up all night Tuesday, sending out emails to suppliers, carriers and other business partners.
“They’re treating it like Tony and Alexis were their family,” Ryder said. “It’s powerful.”
Ryder said truckers from competing companies have called to say they, too, would ask workers to keep an eye out for Murphy.
“It’s an outpouring of caring that I’ve never experienced,” Ryder said. “It’s nationwide.”
“The bottom line is we all want to find her,” he said. “We want a happy ending and we want her safe and home.”
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