AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Since Maura Murray went missing in February of 2004, she has never been found. The Hanson, Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst student left school without telling anyone where she was heading. Hours later, she crashed her car on Route 112 in Haverhill, New Hampshire. It was the last time she was ever seen.
Now nearly two decades later, a potential new lead in her case developed in September.
“I was notified that there was bone fragments found on Loon Mountain,” said Julie Murray, Maura’s sister.
She was alerted by authorities that human remains were found on Loon Mountain less than 25 miles from where Maura left her car and disappeared.
“They came across what they thought was a skull,” Murray told Western Mass News.
Authorities confirmed that the findings were in fact skull fragments . Now, diagnostic testing to identify the skeletal remains is pending.
“This type of testing is going to take some time,” said Murray.
Western Mass News got answers on what the forensic testing entails with UMass Amherst bioarcheology graduate instructor Priscilla Mollard. While she isn't involved in the forensic testing being done in New Hampshire, the Fulbright Award winner has performed extensive bioarchaeology research in Romania.
She explained to us that the first step in identification is creating a biological profile.
“One of the least complex ways is to look at morphology,” Mollard explained. “You would be looking at diagnostic features of the pelvis and the cranium.”
While it was unclear if pelvis fragments were found at Loon Mountain, Mollard said that the skull fragments could provide reliable identification
“A male cranium will tend to be more rugged and have larger muscle attachments. The female cranium tends to be smaller in the same areas,” she said. “Even if the remains are old and there's been a process of decay, you're likely going to have intact dentition.”
Even just one or two teeth can be analyzed with DNA, according to Mollard.
“The dental tissue protects the pulp of the tooth which is where you can extract DNA.”
That pulp would also identify an X or Y chromosome upon testing.
For now, Maura's family anxiously awaits the news that the remains could be hers, a period that Mollard said could take several months for good reason.
“You also don't want to rush,” explained Mollard.
But Julie said that no matter the outcome, she and her family will continue their fight to bring Maura home.
“You never want to get too hopeful, but you never want to lose hope,” she told us.
Julie said an entire team was involved in the testing, from medical examiners to New Hampshire State Police to even the state Forestry Department.
We reached out to New Hampshire State Police who told us that there was no update on where the testing stands.