03/11/13 12:35pm
03/11/2013 12:35 PM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley with missing persons experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Southold Police do not anticipate filing any criminal charges in connection with the disappearance of Peconic teenager Ashley Murray, Police Chief Martin Flatley said Monday.

Police say they know where the teen was during her absence, but the chief declined to give the location.

“She was on the East End most of the time with friends who thought they were helping her,” he said. ”I’d like to think that anyone who helped her over that time was doing it for the right reason. Do I wish it had gone differently? Absolutely, but I don’t think there was any criminal intent.”

Ashley, 16, failed to show up at Southold High School Feb. 25 and she was gone 11 days before she and an adult friend showed up at town police headquarters in Peconic Friday afternoon.

The chief said Ashley spent only one night in the hospital after turning herself in and is now in the care of another family.

“When she was being interviewed it became evident she didn’t want to be home,” the chief added.

The police will conduct a few more interviews before closing out the case, he said.

tkelly@timesreview.com

03/08/13 7:32pm
03/08/2013 7:32 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | A missing person flier posted at the King Cullen in Cutchogue.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | A missing person flier posted at the King Kullen in Cutchogue.

When Mattituck resident Michael Barnett visited his neighborhood 7-Eleven Friday evening, he became overwhelmed with joy.

Not because it had stopped snowing at that point, but because he learned that Peconic teen Ashley Murray, 16, returned home earlier in the day.

“Thank God she’s OK,” Mr. Barnett exclaimed, standing inches away from the missing person flier the convenience store posted on its entrance last Wednesday.

When told by a reporter Southold Town police said Ashley she didn’t appear to have been abused or harmed, Mr. Barnett teared-up, grasped his flannel shirt near his heart and said: “You’ve made my day.”

[Related: Relief and joy on social media for Ashley's safe return].

[Related: Ashley shows up at Southold PD Friday].

“My wife and I have been following this story very closely online,” said Mr. Barnett, a parent. “I’m so glad she’s home.”

Rena Wilhelm, who owns White Weathered Barn in Greenport, described herself as being “glued” to her computer following the investigation unfold on news sites and the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home.” Ms. Wilhelm said she “almost stopped breathing” when she learned that Ashley had reappeared.

“I don’t even know her, but I want to hug her,” she said.

Since the Southold High School sophomore was reported missing since Feb. 25, Ms. Wilhelm said she had noticed herself losing patience and being short with people as she spent most of her time waiting for new news about Ashley’s whereabouts.

“The whole thing has been unsettling, especially because it’s so close to home,” she said. “I’m just so happy she’s safe.”

Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg said Friday evening he believed the community pulled together in the hope that Ashley would return and he anxiously awaits the day when he might see her walking the school’s halls like any other student.

“I can picture her saying good morning,” Mr. Gamberg said. “A simple thing, but don’t take it for granted.”

Andrea Esposito, owner of NoFo Wellness Center whose son attends Southold High School, said she was relieved to learn from a reporter that Ashley was found.

“I can’t even image what the family has gone through,” Ms. Esposito said as she recycled plastic bottles at King Kullen supermarket in Cutchogue Friday night. “We’ve all been concerned. This is a blessing.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

03/08/13 4:59pm

Ashley Murray, the Peconic teen who went missing Feb. 25, touching off a massive search that lit up the social media world and involved agencies including the FBI, is on her way to a hospital for an evaluation after appearing with an unidentified adult friend at Southold police headquarters at 3:15 p.m. Friday, police said.

The teen was interviewed by police for about an hour and 15 minutes before being taken to a “regional hospital,” said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.

She said little about where she was during her absence, he added.

“She didn’t give a lot of information,” said the chief. “She was reluctant to say where she was.”

He added that police believe she was a runway, not abducted, and remained on the East End.

[Related: Relief and joy on social media for Ashley's safe return]

Reached at her family’s home, her brother Jamie Cradehl, said he hasn’t had time to process the news of his sister’s return.

“I’m waiting for everything to sink in,” he said.

He added that when the family asked Ashley if they should join her at the hospital, she said no, that she needed time by herself.

Ms. Murray was reported missing after failing to turn up at school that Monday morning. The ensuing search was unprecedented for the North Fork with police seeking assistance from other public departments, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Chief Flatley said that while the search is over, the investigation is continuing.

On the question of charges being filed, he said. “There’s always that chance. That’s what we have to look for.”

But he sees no reason to charge Ashley.

“We have look to see if there’s anyone else who should be looked at or might fit into a criminal charge, perhaps others who assisted her in remaining out of view,” he said.

Asked if the police interviews answered the questions on why she left and where she went, the chief said, “Not in their entirety, no.”

Southold Junior-Senior High School principal William Galati said he received a call about Ashley’s return about 4 p.m.

“We’re very excited, and I’m glad to hear that she is safe,” Mr. Galati said, adding that others in the school and the surrounding community will feel the same way.

“We have a caring, compassionate, educated community,” he said. “They express such great love and great care for these kids.”

tkelly@timesreview.com

With Carrie Miller and Jennifer Gustavson

03/07/13 2:44pm
03/07/2013 2:44 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | A Suffolk County Police Crime Lab van at the Murray family home on Spring Lane in Peconic Wednesday.

The mother of a missing Peconic teen said Thursday that she believes her daughter’s fighting spirit is keeping her alive 10 days after she disappeared.

In her first media interview in a week, Charlotte Murray said she doesn’t want to give up hope that her daughter will return.

“She’s headstrong,” Ms. Murray said of the missing 16-year-old Southold High School student. “She’s a fighter.”

Ashley Murray was last seen by her brother shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, police said. That morning she left a handwritten “suicide note” in her bedroom and sent text messages to several friends saying she might end her life, her mother said.

Southold Town police focused their initial investigation on searching Ashley’s neighborhood, using canine, marine and aviation resources from the Suffolk County Police Department. They later focused their efforts on interviewing friends and family members and examining phone and computer records, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said.

State police, the FBI, Shelter Island police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have all aided in the investigation.

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | A detective with a Suffolk Police Crime Lab officer, shown wearing rubber gloves and carrying a flashlight, on the scene Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Southold Police detective returned to the Murray home on Spring Lane, bringing along the Suffolk Police Crime Lab unit. Emerging from the home wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves, crime lab officers were seen by reporters carrying a camera and flashlight and loading up a van before departing. It was unclear if they removed any items from the house.

Chief Flatley said there were “no dramatic finds” during the Crime Lab search and that it did not alter the investigation.

“In a case like this that would be a normal procedure because that’s where she lived and the last place she left that day,” Chief Flatley said of the search. “We do know she was in her house [the morning she disappeared].”

He called the Crime Lab search “standard for any missing persons investigation.”

“We have not changed the direction of our investigation, it’s the normal workup of the location,” he said, adding that Wednesday was the first time Crime Lab officers visited the house.

Ms. Murray spoke Thursday about rumors in comments on social networking sites and other media websites. Though she said she hasn’t seen them herself, she said she was made aware of some of the online remarks.

“I was told there is a lot of crazy stuff out there,” she said.

Ms. Murray utilized the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home” Thursday afternoon to make an appeal to her daughter to return home.

“I want to write something myself,” she told The Suffolk Times. “In case she is logging on under a fake name.”

Ms. Murray later posted the following message:

“My Dearest Ash, my li’l Ash, my shadow, my courageous one. You are far more braver than I ever was. I do however have only one request, that you somehow let someone know you are OK. You can write home or type away. Do you remember our secret password? The one word between us? Send a note without a return address. Email me. Remember I will never allow anyone to hurt you, however, I can’t protect you unless I know where you are. You will always have a place to come home to. Never in a million years will I ever turn my back on you. My every thought is with you, yet I feel so helpless and sad. I’ve talked to plenty of people in this similiar situation and time again have heard of happy endings. Very doable. No one makes me laugh quite the way you do and God only knows, I need to laugh. Please email the one word. I love you Ashley.”

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

With Tim Kelly.

gparpan@timesreview.com

03/06/13 8:23am
03/06/2013 8:23 AM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Southold Superintendent David Gamberg.

As the search for missing Peconic teen Ashley Murray continues, the Southold School District is providing additional support to help students cope with the disappearance of the 16-year-old sophomore.

Superintendent David Gamberg said Tuesday that everyone in the district is concerned about Ashley’s well-being and said he believes students are holding up fairly well since she went missing Feb. 25.

“I think it is extremely important to point out that ongoing and sustained work is essential to address healthy interactions among students,” he said. “It is only when we provide periodic programs, along with daily support and engagement, that students have resources to promote appropriate responses to such situations.”

Mr. Gamberg said the district has hosted presentations about substance abuse and cyberbullying and is also setting up a new assembly with neuroscientist Stephen Dewey to discuss peer pressure and bullying. The district is also hosting Compassion Without Borders, a program that promotes charitable causes; Youth Making a Difference, a leadership-training program; and a senior class trip to visit the Suffolk County jail in Riverside.

The district also hosts Friendship Matters groups, which aim to help children develop social skills, build friendships and address female relational aggression, he said.

In the classroom, Mr. Gamberg said teachers are educating students about bullying and peer relationships. Students also learn about cultural sensitivity and sexual abuse prevention through college prep sessions, he said.

In addition to providing students with peer mediation and counseling, the superintendent said he’s also been in constant contact with the Southold Town Police Department since Ashley was reported missing and district officials are encouraging students to come forward if they have any information about her disappearance.

“Anything we can do to provide the police with any clues or hints [will be helpful to the investigation],” Mr. Gamberg said. “You never know what will lead to something.”

Although the superintendent said he hasn’t noticed a large number of students seeking support, he said all staff, teachers and administrators are available to help students cope during this “troubling” and “sad” situation.

“We are continuing to be very watchful and mindful of our students,” he said. “[We’re] walking around, greeting students and making sure that we’re paying close attention to them.”

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

jennifer@timesreview.com

03/05/13 2:30pm

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Police Chief Martin Flatley updated The Suffolk Times Tuesday on the missing persons investigation involving 16-year-old Ashley Murray of Peconic.

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.”

This missing person poster has been posted in many locations throughout Suffolk County.

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.

 gparpan@timesreview.com

03/02/13 5:00pm
03/02/2013 5:00 PM

The family of Ashley Murray, a missing 16-year-old Peconic girl last seen leaving for school Monday, issued a statement Saturday thanking the public, police and media for helping in the search.

Below is the statement, unedited and in its entirety.

We would like to sincerely thank the community and everyone involved in the efforts to find Ashley and return her safely, and also those who have taken up the heart-felt tasks of supporting the family during this difficult time.

We also appreciate all News Reporters, News Teams and informants for their help and would like to extend both our genuine thanks for helping to spread the word in our search for Ashley, as well as our request for privacy at this point. We also would like to thank the Police and Authorities for all their efforts and continuing support and, God willing, to a quick and happy resolution to this matter.

Ashley is 5-foot, 4-inches tall and 140 pounds with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. She has a scar on her right wrist and uses hearing aids in both ears. She was last seen wearing a black and gray hooded sweatshirt, read sweatpants and black boots.

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

Click here for additional news coverage and information.

03/01/13 4:00pm
03/01/2013 4:00 PM
Ashley Murray, 16, has been missing since Monday.

Ashley Murray, 16, has been missing since Monday.

Update (4 p.m. Friday):  Southold Town police on Friday updated the media on its efforts to locate missing teenager Ashley Murray of Peconic. Police acknowledged Ashley may have left her home “with intentions of harming herself,” something authorities had not stated publicly before.

Investigators said they’ve interviewed over 30 family, friends, acquaintances and “concerned citizens” throughout New York State, and searched more than 25 “geographical areas of interest in Southold Town alone.”

Southold Town police are working with several other agencies, including the FBI, state police, Suffolk County Police Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Shelter Island Police Department, according to the release.

Police “are committed to continue this extensive investigation and have always encouraged all members of the public to contact our department with any information as to Ashley Murray’s whereabouts.”

Police can be contacted at (631) 765-2600.

THURSDAY COVERAGE:
Before Brianne Catapano and Rachael Hornstein met up Thursday afternoon across the street from their high school, the two Southold natives had been only acquaintances.

Within a few hours though, a common interest brought them closer: They both want to find their friend, Ashley Murray.

The pair joined dozens of others Thursday, spending the afternoon handing out fliers across the North Fork, hoping to raise awareness of Ashley’s disappearance. The 16-year-old from Peconic has been missing since 8 a.m. Monday, according to Southold Town Police.

Ashley’s mother, Charlotte Murray, learned her daughter was missing after receiving a call from school officials. She later found a note from her daughter, which she called a “suicide note” and said it made reference to a “watery grave.”

POLICE RESPONSE

Law enforcement officials are expected to hold a press briefing Friday to report the steps they’ve taken since Ashley’s disappearance, which Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said includes calling in the FBI and personality profilers.

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.

FRIENDS SEARCH

The lack of an Amber Alert did not stop local residents from conducting their own searches and using social media to reach thousands of concerned web surfers from across the country.

“I want her to come home,” Rachael said as she walked down Front Street in Greenport, holding a stack of fliers.

“We all do,” said Ms. Catapano, who scheduled a search party Thursday to find her friend of four years. She organized the event through her Facebook page “Ashley Come Home,” which was followed by over 2,400 Facebook users as of Thursday night.

More than 40 local residents met across the street from Southold High School to participate in the search. Ms. Catapano originally wanted the group of volunteers to search under bridges and along the waterfront, but those plans were altered after Southold Town police asked that they focus their efforts on handing out fliers instead.

Ms. Catapano told the crowd that police feared a search party could contaminate evidence. She then asked them to break into groups and hand out fliers from Riverhead to Orient.

“We just want to spread as many fliers around and make sure her face is known so if anyone has recognized her they can come forward,” Ms. Catapano said.

The last time she spoke to Ashley, who is a sophomore at Southold High School, was about a week ago and she said they planned to hang out this week.

“It’s been very hard,” Ms. Catapano said. “I haven’t gotten much sleep.”

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

Ms. Catapano and several of Ashley’s friends and classmates have said Ashley, who they say was bisexual, was often bullied in school because of her sexual orientation.

“People knew she was depressed and still made fun of her,” Ms. Catapano said. “It’s very sad.”

Cora Small, 14, said she decided to join the volunteer effort because she misses her friend who helped her fit in at school.

“She’s nice and accepts people for who they are,” Cora said. “This just crushes me.”

SCHOOLS REACT

Superintendent David Gamberg said some of Ashley’s friends who attend school in Greenport received suicidal text messages from her Monday morning. Those students notified their school social worker, he said, who then contacted a social worker at Southold High School. Mr. Gamberg said the district then immediately contacted the Southold Town Police Department and has been cooperating with police since the investigation began.

Greenport High School principal Leonard Skuggevik said Thursday the district is “incredibly proud” of its students and staff’s quick response.

“They are currently organizing their ideas to assist in the search and we are talking with the Southold Police Department to ensure each idea will be helpful and not harmful to their investigation,” he said.

In December, Greenport schools hosted Todd Lauderdale of the national anti-bullying program “Rachel’s Challenge,” which is based on the writings of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

Following his presentation, Mr. Lauderdale helped the district form a student group that pledged to surround themselves with positive role models and become kinder to their peers — especially special needs, new and picked-on students — in an effort to deter bullying.

In an interview with The Suffolk Times Thursday, Mr. Lauderdale said he was pleased with how Greenport students handled the situation by notifying school officials and described Ashley’s disappearance as “tragic.”

“These are the very things we’re trying to combat and prevent from happening,” he said.

Mr. Lauderdale said while his group promotes proactive anti-bullying steps in schools, it also encourages students to seek help if they are in need.

“If kids are struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or feeling isolated, counseling through the school or independent professional help is crucially needed,” he said.

Mr. Gamberg said this week that Southold High School has been encouraging students to speak with counselors since Ashley’s disappearance.

FATHER’S PREVIOUS ARREST

Ashley lives in Peconic with her mother and her older brother. She has been estranged from her father, Kenneth Payne of Shelter Island, since she was an infant, according to a 2004 New York Times story. Mr. Payne served six years in prison for the 1998 shooting death of his neighbor, Curtis Cook, court records show. Ashley was 18 months old at the time of the shooting.

Mr. Cook, a long time friend of Mr. Payne’s, had been arrested two weeks before his death and charged with sodomizing an 8-year-old girl, the New York Times reported. Mr. Payne told investigators at the time that Mr. Cook had threatened Ashley and her mother on the night he was killed, court records show. Mr. Payne was later acquitted following an appeal.

Ms. Murray won a court battle over the custody of Ashley after her father was released from prison, according to state records.

jennifer@timesreview.com

With Grant Parpan, Paul Squire and Tim Kelly

02/28/13 3:39pm

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