As part of continued public awareness about the search for a missing Homer woman, Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, her family and friends sponsored a community conversation Thursday, Feb. 13 at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
“I’m just so grateful to everyone who has chosen to hold a torch for the hope and healing in this dark place,” said Tela O’Donnell Bacher, a childhood friend of Murnane. “We want to keep the conversation going that Duffy lived here in Homer for 38 years and is a part of the community.”
Murnane, 38, has been missing since Oct. 17 after she was last seen in a security camera image leaving her Main Street apartment. Murnane’s mother is Sara Berg and her step-father is Ed Berg.
She disappeared on Oct. 17 after leaving her Main Street apartment for an appointment at the SVT Health & Wellness clinic on East End Road. The last confirmed sighting is a security camera photo showing her leaving the Maintree Apartments, a supported housing complex, about 12:15 p.m. that day. Murnane had a 1 p.m. appointment at SVT Health and Wellness Center, about a 1-mile walk from her home. She did not show up for that appointment.
Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers issued a Silver Alert on Oct. 19 for Murnane after she was reported missing that day. Anyone with information on her whereabouts can call Homer Police at 907-235-3150 or the Silver Alert hotline at 855-SILVR99 or 855-745-8799. A Silver Alert is for an adult considered a vulnerable person.
Murnane was wearing a blue jacket, light-blue shirt and blue jeans the last time she was seen. She is almost 6 feet tall, weighs about 160 pounds and has shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes. She carried a pink-and-black plaid purse with a shoulder strap and carried her wallet, cellphone and identification. Police said she does not drive or own a vehicle and got around by walking. Last week, the family released a photo taken before her disappearance that shows Murnane wearing that same jacket and carrying that purse.
The weekend after Murnane went missing, search and rescue dog teams from Anchorage tracked her in the downtown area, picking up scents from Main Street to Lee Drive, Svedlund Street, Pioneer Avenue and Kachemak Way. Search dogs followed strong scents to Pioneer Avenue area near Cosmic Kitchen, in front of Homer’s Jeans and the Kachemak Bay Campus. There the dogs acted as if there had been what search dog handlers call a “car pick up.”
The Bergs have said they believed their daughter has been abducted. At the community meeting, Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning, the lead investigator in the case, said police are classifying Murnane as a missing person “because we don’t have anything to say she is abducted,” he said.
“We are treating this as if she was abducted,” he added
Browning said police don’t have any solid leads or suspects in the case.
At the Feb. 13 meeting, Bacher described Murnane’s life. She was born in a log cabin in Homer, and has a master’s degree in Montessori education. Relatively private, her social life is limited to small groups and friends.
“She enjoys her own company. She was a profuse reader,” Bacher said. “… Duffy loved kids and toddlers in only the way parents and saints can do.”
Murnane had faced mental health challenges and lived in Maintree Apartments as part of her plan to live independently. She had been looking for new housing and a job.
“She was looking forward to a future,” Bacher said.
Ed Berg also spoke about his step-daughter. Murnane had a trip planned to stay in Alamos, Mexico, a historic silver mining town with an expatriate American community. She had many friends among older women who lived there, and they had taken her under their wing, he said.
Everything about Murnane’s life before she went missing suggested she was positive about the future, Berg said. The FBI had even found out she applied for jobs — something the family didn’t know about.
“All of these were signs she was on her way up and getting back to her previous life,” Berg said. “Would she have just taken off? First of all, with who? (There was) no sign of a boyfriend. This isn’t an 18-year-old who had a bad romantic experience who wants to leave town, leave the family.”
He also said he the logistics of taking off without leaving a trace would take a lot of preparation.
“That’s why we see this as an abduction,” Berg said. “That’s why she didn’t just go off on a lark.”
Berg said Murnane’s case “raises the more general question of violence against women in our society, especially in Alaska and the Yukon.”
“It would be nice to take this occasion to build a broad movement against this issue,” he said.
Browning summarized what police know about Murnane’s case. They know that her cellphone got a “ping” on Oct. 17 from a cellphone tower near Mile 170 Sterling Highway near Baycrest Hill. Police searched the area but did not find her cellphone. Murnane was known to not recharge her cellphone battery and often let it run out of power.
Police and volunteers also did thorough searches of the area around her home. They searched from the air in helicopters, using drones and with a fixed-wing plane taking high-resolution camera photos. Police have looked at security camera footage and followed up on 100s of tips, Browning said. In response to a question from the audience at the meeting, Browning said police interviewed all the residents and staff of Maintree Apartments.
The FBI also has been helping police “take a deep dive of who Duffy is … Why anyone would want to victimize her,” Browning said.
Bacher and other women at the meeting said Murnane’s disappearance has made them feel more cautious about perceiving Homer as a safe refuge.
“I haven’t spoken to a single woman in this town who feels the same way about Homer as she did before the abduction,” Kate Finn said at the meeting. “… Not paranoid, just cautious — not being cavalier.”
Browning said it’s a good idea for people to be aware of their surroundings and to be careful. But he also said he thinks Homer is a safe place.
“The ladies and gentlemen I work with think so,” he said. “… We don’t feel like there’s a loose serial killer in our community. It’s possible there is. We don’t think so.”
Browning urged people who had any information about Murnane’s disappearance to call police at 907-235-3150 as soon as possible. People should not post tips as comments on social media, he said.
“If it doesn’t look right, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call,” Browning said.