Sunday, October 02, 2005

10/02/05 The All-American Girl Part III

Broken Promises?

On that fateful day in February 2004, Maura broke promises to two people she loved, Billy, and her father, Fred.

In the last email sent to Billy, as noted in Part II, Maura is referring to messages that Billy had left for her the day before. She had been away from the phone, so she did not get those messages on that day.

Sharon explains the events surrounding the broken promises: “It has been 18 months, and yet we still have no clue why Maura chose to take a week off of school, drive a car that she knew was not mechanically sound and head to NH. We do know that she attempted to call my son Billy the afternoon of her missing. Because she could not reach him, she emailed him. She made no mention of the trip, (of course we think this would be like her - she would not want him worried about her traveling alone in a car with mechanical problems) There were two calls made on her cell phone before she left UMass that confirm that she was attempting to find a room in the VT/NH area.

On Sunday, she also had promised to call her father the evening of her missing. We believe that she had every intention to follow through on this promise because duplicate copies of insurance forms were found in her car. The scheduled phone call with her father was for him to assist her. She had to have either picked them up from the Hadley MA police station (regarding an auto accident she had on Sat 2/7/04) or down loaded them online. It is not unusual that she did not attempt to call Fred at work and tell him of her plans. He is a nuclear medicine technician and can take neither personal calls at work, nor cell phone calls. Maura's broken promises to her Dad and to Billy lead me to believe that Maura has been harmed.”

That night, Maura’s car was found near a sharp curve on a rural road near Haverhill, NH. There was some damage to the car and the air bags had been deployed. It was 12 degrees and snowing. According to reports, Maura spoke to at least one person and was seen by other neighbors after the accident. There were other unconfirmed sightings within a 4-5 mile range of the accident.

No one knew exactly where Maura was headed. She had made a call earlier that day to a rental unit and directions to Vermont were found on her computer and in her car.

Maura’s father was not notified until the afternoon of the 10th that his car was found. The family had to call the Haverhill Police to let them know that it was not Fred in the car, but Maura. Where was she?

Police performed ground and air searches for Maura, but yet no records showed any searches took place to the east of the car. Searches were not done until 2 days after Maura’s disappearance. Family members, including Billy and Fred came and did their own searches. No one was able to find any footprints in the 2 feet of snow that covered the side of the road. Posters were everywhere, but Maura was still no where to be seen.

The police reported that Maura’s credit and ATM cards and her cell phone have not been used. The last call went out at 4:37 p.m. on February 9, 2004 when she checked her messages. The trail leading to Maura went dead.

All of us who live in the “not knowing” can look back and see what we would have done differently had we known what to do, but how many people know what to do? Do you?

Sharon said: “I wish I had known about her plans and could have discussed them with her. We have a family rule about calling each other and confirming destination arrival. If I had known that she was taking a trip, then perhaps she would not be missing. I also could have asked her to consider not going, and it is feasible that she may not have gone. At the least, I am convinced that at my request she would have been willing to call me when she arrived at her destination.

I wish I would have known of all of the resources available to the families of the missing. I also wish all of us had been more adamant with Law Enforcement (LE) that their suicide and runaway theories just did not fit. Because we knew they were really our only hope as well as we all had much respect and admiration for LE as a whole, we made a conscious choice to not be in an adversarial position with them. As a result of the media attention that we were able to gather, we finally did receive some action on the part of LE in Maura's case a week after she was missing. But, I am convinced that we should have taken a much more pro-active course in dealing with her missing. We should have contacted politicians in both NH and MA, as well as the national media and hired our own private investigator. (We did have a PI advising us after about 2 weeks, but not one that took an active role in the investigation.) There is no doubt that we lost valuable information, as did LE, by depending on the tax dollars of NH to provide to us the answers we did not have.”

I’m going to climb up on my soapbox for a moment here. There are many things that are frustrating about Maura’s story. I sincerely hope that with time, training, and awareness, things can turn out differently in so many cases.

When I was at the National Conference earlier this year in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions about what is important in a missing person’s case. My number one answer was and still is what happens in the beginning is the key. That can make or break a case. Assumptions that the person voluntarily left when there is no solid evidence of that fact cause lost time and leads. Handling cases more proactively will require additional training and manpower, but when we are talking about lives lost, there is no price too high.

Resources for families of the missing should always be provided. As a minimum, child cases should be referred to NCMEC and adult cases to the Center for Missing Adults. Many of the child cases get that basic reference, (but not all) and it isn’t often (based upon information provided by the families we serve) that families of missing adult’s cases are given alternatives so they can ensure they are doing everything possible to find their missing loved one.

Changes in the way things are currently handled will take time, but are not impossible to have put into place.

The worries and anxieties begin to build for her family as the search for Maura continues without results.

Project Jason has its second largest public safety event of the year during the day on Sunday, so therefore Part IV of Maura’s story will not be posted until Sunday evening.


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