By: Andrea Cipriano, MAFP
This new true crime campaign created by a family advocate begs the question, ‘How would you want your missing or murdered loved one to be treated in the media?’
As a person living alongside the ambiguous loss of her younger sister Maura, Julie Murray knows what it’s like to harbor lingering grief. But, when unethical media capitalizes on the sorrow of a family’s unsolved case, Julie says, “emotional closure is impossible.”
She has experienced first-hand how relentless and exploitative media attention can freeze the family’s grief, despite the advocacy efforts designed to keep Maura’s case hot in the press.
Now, Julie, Maura’s case advocate, is actively working on rewriting the narrative.
Put yourself in a grieving family member’s shoes for a moment…
…endless podcast interviews…reporters flooding email inboxes…producers sitting you down and adjusting lights for filmed content…
Without the right content focus, these anxiety-inducing quests for a sound bite can harm the advocacy cause. It can even exacerbate a family’s private struggle with mental health, addiction, and interpersonal dynamics.
Over time, this dangerous exploitation could lead to a family forgoing interviews, inadvertently making a cold case even colder. Or worse, exploitation could send grieving loved ones deeper into a dark abyss.
The only thing that can positively re-invigorate those suffering from unimaginable loss is hope. Julie shared with Uncovered that “the secret ingredient for hope is empathy.”
Hope inspired her to create The #EngageWithEmpathy Campaign.
The campaign is building a legacy to unite survivors of true crime, supporters, and content creators while emphasizing case coverage that highlights empathetic storytelling.
The Murray family has known the struggle of trying to get empathetic coverage for nearly two decades.
Through that time, Julie says she’s seen, but more importantly, felt it all. She told Uncovered that the desire to keep Maura in public consciousness comes at a cost.
“Content lacking empathy is a surefire way to extinguish hope,” Julie said. “I’ve felt hopelessness on my journey to find my sister — I don’t want other victims and families to experience that pain.”
It’s past time that this changes.
“Victims and families at the heart of these true crime cases are real people, not characters in a screenplay,” Julie expressed. “We didn’t choose these tragic paths.”
Meet Maura Murray
Maura Murray was born on May 4, 1982, in Brockton, Massachusetts. She grew up in a small suburb, loved immeasurably by her parents, Fred and Laurie Murray, and her siblings, Fred Jr., Kathleen, Julie, and Kurtis.
It’s said that her local community had grown to know Maura as the girl with a kind heart, signature dimples, and a beautiful smile.
Julie says Maura excelled academically and athletically — and many took notice. Once Maura was in competitive sports, she broke several long-standing school records and consistently finished in the top tier of runners in the state of Massachusetts. She had her pick of colleges but decided to join Julie at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point.
During her second year though, Maura concluded that military life wasn’t for her, and she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to study nursing.
Suddenly, on February 9, 2004, Maura packed a bag.
She had just emailed her professors saying she’d be away for the week due to a death in the family — but no one had passed away. Outgoing call records indicate she may have been headed for Bartlett, New Hampshire, with her bag of toiletries, makeup, workout attire, school books, and several days’ worth of clothes.
At 3:15 pm that same day, Maura stopped at an off-campus ATM and withdrew $280, which was almost all of the money in her account. She then stopped at a liquor store and purchased about $40 worth of alcohol. Julie says Maura did not tell anyone her plans or why she was heading to New Hampshire that Monday afternoon.
Suddenly, at 7:27 pm, a Haverhill, New Hampshire resident called the police saying that there had been an accident near her home and that a car was stuck in a ditch.
It was Maura.
Shortly after, Butch Atwood, a bus driver who lived in the area, drove by Maura and asked if she needed police assistance. Maura reportedly declined, saying she already contacted AAA. Butch knew the reception in the area was spotty, so when he got home about 100 yards away from the crash site, he called 911 at 7:42 pm.
By the time the first officer arrived on the scene at 7:46 PM, Maura was gone.
The bus driver’s brief interaction with Maura is the last known sighting of her. The eight responding firefighters briefly searched the scene before returning to the station. As far as anyone knows, no one searched east of the accident scene.
Since then, there has been no trace of Maura — no activity on her cell phone, bank accounts, or positive sightings.
The Murray family has struggled with Maura’s disappearance. It’s no secret that Julie has often had to ask the true crime community to refocus their coverage on the investigation rather than promoting controversy that’s harmful to the case.
“Families like mine are vulnerable, yet we must keep our loved ones’ stories in the public consciousness in order to prevent them from going cold,” Julie told Uncovered. “This comes at a cost and oftentimes our real life tragedies are exploited without empathy, consent or context.”
True crime ethics has always been a discussion, but that discussion seems to have only just been simmering. Now, it’s boiling.
Julie told Uncovered it’s because “victims, family members, and advocates are banding together demanding change.” She continued, adding, “Exploitative, sensationalized true crime does nothing to further these cases; it does, however, cause irreparable harm to the investigations and loved ones left behind. There’s a better way to do it.”
The #EngageWithEmpathy Campaign asks anyone consuming or producing true crime content to first think about how you would like to be treated if it was your family — your loved one — in the headlines. Julie told Uncovered it’s not about censorship, it’s about decency.
Content creators can also pledge to the pillars of the campaign — showing that they C.A.R.E.:
C — Center The Victim
A — Avoid Harmful Speculation
R — Research Responsibly
E — Engage with Empathy
Julie also noted that even if you’re not the person creating true crime content, your attention — and clicks — matter. Consumption signals where the landscape of true crime coverage goes. By only interacting with content, creators, and networks that #EngageWithEmpathy, we’re turning the wheels for change.
“It’s important not to lose sight of those with the most at stake in these stories — the victims and their loved ones left behind in the wake of these tragedies,” Julie concluded.
To learn more about the #EngageWithEmpathy Campaign, follow the link to the official Maura Murray Missing website.
To learn more about Maura Murray’s case, follow the link to her visualized case page.