Neighbors and locals have wondered why the massive search for missing mother Samantha Murphy has been scaled back less than a week after she went missing.
The beloved mother of three was last seen leaving her home on Eureka St in Victoria’s Ballarat East around 7am on Sunday to go for a run in a nearby forest.
But as the search for her entered its seventh day on Saturday, Victoria Police suddenly confirmed the operation to find her had been scaled back.
Hundreds of officers and concerned locals have organized an intensive hunt in the surrounding area, including Mount Helen, Canadian Forest and Buninyong.
Volunteers from the National Fire Authority and the State Emergency Service were also part of the search effort, but officially withdrew as of 5 p.m. on Friday.
The move comes as detectives from Victoria Police’s Missing Persons Team took over the investigation.
Despite the official move to scale back the operation, locals were still exploring properties and footpaths for signs of Ms Murphy on Friday and Saturday.
Samantha Murphy disappeared after going for a morning run a week ago in Victoria’s central highlands.
Locals search for Ms Murphy in dense bushland on Saturday. Police advised locals not to go into the bush alone and to team up with a friend in the rugged terrain as the search narrows.
“It’s a little disappointing that the process is already closing,” said one man.
‘I mean, she could still be alive out there. It hasn’t been that long.
Locals joined people from across the country and abroad in praying for Ms Murphy to be safe and well.
“I hope they find her safe and sound, especially with this heat wave in the next few days,” one said.
‘I really hope the family gets some answers soon. Just heartbreaking,” said another.
But others have expressed frustration that the search has ended after just seven days, noting that the area is known to have abandoned mine shafts.
‘Can I ask why the missing persons unit didn’t take over sooner? They seem to have more resources,’ said one.
‘Why had it taken so long? They should have acted immediately. The phone doesn’t ring if it’s underground,” said another.
Commentators on social media have questioned why the search has been “reduced” after seven days, just as he was joining the missing persons team.
Former homicide detective Charlie Bezzina also criticized the missing persons squad’s failure to intervene until Friday.
“I would have expected the missing persons (squad) to have been on scene the Monday after she disappeared because here we have a mother of three, well respected in the community, who inexplicably disappeared,” he said. Nine breakfast program today.
‘In my opinion, it is better to err on the side of caution, start at the highest level and then work your way down because you can lose a lot. Here we have the missing people coming on board five or six days after the event.
“I think we need to examine the mines to see if she may have inexplicably fallen into one of them.
“It could well be that she went out of her way to relieve herself, whatever that may be, so for all we know, she could be injured in a mine shaft.”
A police spokesman said the search was not suspended but reduced.
“Police continue to be in regular contact with Samantha’s family regarding the development of the search and the status of the investigation,” a spokeswoman said.
“The investigation stage continues and, as new information arrives that identifies areas of interest, the search will be expanded.”
Officers have asked residents in the suburbs of Ballarat East, Canadian Forest, Eureka, Buninyong and Mount Helen to check any CCTV or dash cams they have from 7am on Sunday for any signs of Ms Murphy .
SES volunteers search for clues near Buninyong as part of a large-scale search for missing Ballarat East woman Samantha Murphy; the search has now been significantly reduced
The official search for Samantha Murphy may have been abandoned, but locals were still searching the woods on Saturday.
“One of the challenges we have is that the area is so remote that there are not many businesses or residential CCTV available,” Inspector Bob Heaney said.
Detectives are working with telecommunications technicians to identify the route Ms Murphy traveled after confirming she was carrying a smartwatch and phone.
Murphy’s movements on Sunday morning were in line with what he would normally do, Inspector Heaney said.
“Samantha is in very good shape, both physically and mentally, covering between 14 and 15km on her runs,” he said.
“He usually came back from his run within a couple of hours and alarm bells would go off when he didn’t come back from that run.”
Murphy’s distraught eldest daughter Jess asked for help Thursday to bring her mother home.
“I know it’s out there somewhere, so if you could continue to look for it to give us something to work with, we would really appreciate it,” he said.
Mick, the missing woman’s husband, added: “People don’t disappear into thin air.” Someone has to know something.
Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.