Search party turns attention to handing out fliers of missing teen

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Friends of Ashley Murray gathered near Southold High School Thursday to organize a search party for their friend, who has been missing since Monday.

Plans to search under bridges and along the waterfront for missing Peconic teen Ashley Murray have been altered, as Southold Police have asked the group organizing the search party to instead focus their efforts on handing out fliers.

More than 40 local residents met across the street from Southold High School at 3 p.m. Thursday with plans to participate in the search.

Brianne Catapano, 18, a friend who organized the search and created the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home,” said police feared a search party could contaminate evidence and believed they would be more helpful if they handed out fliers.

Ms. Catapano said she made 500 fliers and an additional 2,000 fliers were donated to her.

The searchers then broke up into small groups, which will head to different hamlets nearby to hand out fliers this afternoon.

After Ms. Catapano made sure everyone received copies of the missing person report, she headed to Greenport to ask business owners to post the flier in their windows.

“I didn’t think this many people would show up,” Ms. Catapano said. “I’m very happy about the turnout. It’s been very hard. I haven’t gotten much sleep. I hope she’s found.”

Ashley, 16, has been missing since 8 a.m. Monday, police said.

Her mother, Charlotte Murray, learned of her daughter’s disappearance after receiving a call from school officials who told her social workers got word from students who had received texts from Ashley that said she would kill herself. Her mom later found a note from her daughter, which she called a “suicide note.”

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.

Many of her friends and classmates have said they were out searching locally this week for their friend, who they said was often bullied in school.

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

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

jennifer@timesreview.com