The official search for missing mother Samantha Murphy has been mainly rolled back one week after her disappearance, although volunteers combed through the thick undergrowth of Ballarat’s bushland over the weekend.
Victoria Police confirmed on Sunday afternoon there was no update on the investigation into Murphy’s disappearance.
SES volunteers near Macs Road, Buninyong on Friday. The official search for Samantha Murphy has since been scaled back.Credit: Penny Stephens
Little new information has emerged since the 51-year-old went missing on February 4. Murphy had told friends she was planning a 14-kilometre run through the nearby Woowookarung Regional Park before she would meet her family for Sunday brunch.
A CCTV camera captured her outside her home at 7am on February 4, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing a purple running singlet and black leggings. When she did not make it to brunch, alarm bells rang for her family and they contacted police.
The official search for Murphy was scaled back on Saturday after six days of police officers, SES and CFA members searching through dense scrub. But a police spokeswoman said the investigation continued.
“Despite extensive searches in the area over the past six days, no sign of Samantha has been located,” police said in a statement.
Police officers on horseback were still cutting through the bush over the weekend, just hundreds of metres from where Murphy was last spotted outside her home in Eureka Street, Ballarat East. At the same time, investigators were doorknocking houses along Eureka Street in an effort to gather CCTV.
Police have urged the community to share any CCTV or dashcam footage taken in Ballarat East, Mount Helen or Buninyong on February 4 between 7am and 7pm.
On Sunday morning, local Tori Baxter rallied a public search group outside the Buninyong police station, before they took to the winding, overlapping trails throughout the state forest. Around 28 people set out to scour the area known by locals as Canadian forest.
“I think the community was really disheartened to hear the police had scaled back their search,” Baxter said.
“[Finding her] feels like an almost impossible task, but everyone here just really wants Samantha home.”
The search for Murphy has been complicated by the terrain. Steep inclines pepper the forest. While more than 120 roads and trails crisscross through the area, the scrub becomes sense and sharp for those who wander off the dirt tracks. Snakes and exposed mine shafts lurk just out of sight, under the foliage.
At a press conference on Sunday, federal Ballarat MP Catherine King reiterated the terrain was “beautiful bushland … but really difficult” for those searching.
“For a community like Ballarat, [who have] big hearts … we just hope very much there is a positive outcome for Samantha Murphy and her family,” she said.
Samantha Murphy was last seen outside her Ballarat East home on the morning of February 4.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his thoughts were with Murphy’s friends and family, and noted it was a “very difficult time” for them.
Those in Sunday’s search party repeatedly remarked how easy it would be to miss something even just a metre off the road.
While many searchers chose to drive slowly along the roads Murphy might have jogged along, Ballarat couple Jo and Michael walked slowly along the paths, hoping it would make them “more observant”.
Jo has previously been involved in searches for missing people, when she was a member of the NSW Rural Fire Service, and she believes that with persistence, “eventually she will be found”.
“Hopefully people can maintain that momentum and keep looking. We have to bring closure to her family,” Jo said.
Sunday’s search was led by locals, but others travelled from Melbourne, Geelong and near the NSW-Victoria border, and took metal detectors and magnet fishing gear to try to find the AirPods and Apple watch Murphy was carrying when she left home.
Baxter said she had come across “more mums out looking for Samantha” than any other group, as all were torn up by the thought of Murphy’s teenage children never getting to hug her again.
“People are not wanting to give up. I’m a mother of three, and if I was missing, I would want everyone on board to try and find me,” Baxter said.
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