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Map clue spurs search for student in Vermont

Police are searching the Burlington, Vt., area for missing college student Maura Murray after a review of her personal computer revealed she used the Internet on the day she disappeared to obtain driving directions there.

Fred Murray, the missing woman's father, said University of Massachusetts at Amherst campus police discovered yesterday that the junior nursing student had used Mapquest.com to research directions to Burlington on Feb. 9. Hours later, she crashed her car into a snowbank in Woodsville, N.H., and vanished without a trace.

Murray's father said he also discovered a note card that mentioned Burlington among many personal belongings she had packed in her car. The two last visited the northern Vermont city on Columbus Day weekend, when they hiked nearby Camel's Hump Mountain and Mount Mansfield.

New Hampshire State Police -- who are investigating Murray's disappearance, along with Haverhill, N.H., police and the FBI -- notified authorities in Vermont yesterday to be on the lookout for the slender, 5-foot-7 Hanson, Mass., woman, who was last seen nearly two weeks ago.

"We mentioned to all the officers at roll call to be on the lookout for her," said Lieutenant Scott Davidson of the Burlington police. "We have her picture. The South Burlington police are looking for her, too."

New Hampshire State Police Lieutenant John Scarinza said yesterday that for several days police have been checking motels and hotels in several Vermont communities. Investigators know of no one Murray might know in the Burlington area, he said.

"Vermont State Police, Burlington police, and other local agencies have canvassed motels in Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester, Shelburne, and surrounding towns to see if she checked in anywhere around," he said.

Authorities used helicopters and dogs to search the area where Murray crashed last week and again on Thursday, but have found no indication that she fled into nearby woods or evidence of foul play. Nevertheless, her family and friends say they believe she was kidnapped.

What is clear is that Murray, a conscientious nursing student and former West Point cadet, was deeply troubled by something in the days preceding her disappearance.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, Murray was working at her campus job at a security desk in a UMass-Amherst dormitory when she received a phone call that made her cry, said her father and a high school friend, Andrea Connolly. She was so disturbed by the call that her supervisor had to escort her home.

Two days later, she damaged her father's car in a minor accident. Distraught over her fender-bender, she called her boyfriend, Army Lieutenant Bill Rausch, in tears the next day.

About 24 hours later, on Feb. 9, she lied to a professor and the campus art gallery where she worked, informing them through e-mails that she needed to return to her hometown of Hanson because of a death in the family, officials and family members said.

Murray then withdrew $280 from an ATM, packed all her belongings as if she were moving out, and took off with some of them in her Saturn.

A witness who offered Murray help after she crashed her car told police she appeared to be intoxicated, officials said. An open bottle of alcohol was found in the car, Rausch said.

By the time Haverhill police arrived at the accident scene, Murray, who had asked the witness not to call authorities, was gone.

Fred Murray said he had planned to talk to his daughter that night about filling out a police report in the earlier accident. In her car was a blank accident form from the Amherst police.

"I'm convinced she was going to call me Monday night and was going to make out the form," he said. "If she wasn't going to do it, why go to the Amherst police and get the form? That makes me think she was unable to make the call. That's why I think she's been physically harmed and is in danger."

New Hampshire officials, respectful of her family's concerns, caution that Murray may have simply gone away for a few days without informing anyone.

"I totally appreciate the family's frustration in not knowing where she is or what has happened," Scarinza said. "But it's also true that she was apparently leaving Massachusetts without telling her family or friends or her boyfriend. That indicates to me that perhaps she wanted to get away on her own."

Murray's family has offered a reward for information and has created a website, www.spbowers.com/mauramissing.html.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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