County bands together in search for Alexis Murphy - The Daily Progress: News

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County bands together in search for Alexis Murphy

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Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 7:31 pm | Updated: 11:28 am, Mon Dec 2, 2013.

LYNCHBURG — For the family of missing Shipman teen Alexis Murphy, the past eight days have been the most wrenching they've known.

"This has been the longest week. ... We're just stuck on [last] Sunday," cousin Brittani Harris said.

"It just felt like my heart stopped and hasn't started up again," continued Angela Taylor, the missing girl's aunt.

As the family waits for the call telling them Alexis has been found, folks all over Nelson County hold onto hope, raising their prayers that the girl will be delivered home safe.

Members of the community have distributed flyers with photos of Alexis and spread the word of her disappearance online; Thursday night hundreds convened on the high school football field to pray and offer their support.

"The amount of support we've seen from Nelson ... it's touching," Taylor said.

Even as she spoke on Friday, a minivan pulled up to Alexis's house, and two people asked if they could tie a pink bow to the mailbox to remind others to keep looking for her.

Taylor later said that she didn't know the pair, but before they left they promised to make drivers see pink whenever they drove through Shipman until Alexis is found.

Alexis Tiara Murphy, 17, was last seen the evening of Saturday, Aug. 3. Her family believes she was headed to Lynchburg to get hair extensions for her senior portrait.

FBI agents, county deputies and state police officers have scoured a 60-mile stretch of U.S. 29 from Lynchburg to Charlottesville but, even with a helicopter and canine teams, have yet to find her.

Tuesday night, they did discover a car Alexis was believed to have been driving, a white Nissan Maxima, found in the Carmike Six cinema parking lot in Albemarle County. But thus far, it has not led them to the teenager.

On Monday, Alexis was to start her senior year at Nelson County High School.

Last week, Principal Todd Weidow was preparing for the first week of classes, which this year will include having counselors available for any of her classmates who may need to talk to someone.

Weidow does not plan to make any announcements about the case to the student body, but knows there will be interest on campus.

He is encouraging his staff to tell the community to hope for a positive outcome.

"We're just like everybody else. ... There aren't a lot of details and that's part of the frustration," the principal said.

"I think everybody's trying to piece it together. I think a lot of people are struggling."

With about 600 students, the high school is a close community, and Alexis was well-known by classmates, Weidow said.

"Alexis is a good kid, active in activities inside and outside of school, and she took on leadership roles," he said.

One of those activities was playing on the varsity volleyball team as an outside hitter. She had been looking forward to being a captain this fall.

Coach Vicki Crawford said Alexis had been coming to open gyms and volleyball camp over the summer and was settling into her new position.

"She really wanted to do well this year ... and step up and take this leadership role on," the coach said.

"She wants to be the best she can be."

The team, which Crawford called "more like a sisterhood," has been struggling with the news of her disappearance.

"Monday was really difficult," she said. The team took some time just to cry and comfort each other that day.

Crawford is keeping Alexis's roster spot open for her return.

The school will host several scrimmages with teams from the area next Saturday. The Lady Govs may make plans to spread the word of Alexis's disappearance at the event, but on Friday night Crawford said she's holding out hope that Alexis will be home before then.

The team did attend Thursday's vigil together to pray for their teammate's safe return.

The vigil was just one of the ways the whole community has come together as the search for Alexis continues.

When the call from Alexis's volleyball coach came into claudia's Florist and Gifts Friday morning for a donation of pink bows to hang around the county, store owner claudia Brush didn't hesitate before selecting spools of pink and setting to work.

The goal of the pink bows - Murphy's favorite color - is to make people aware of the 17-year old's disappearance, which will hopefully elicit more information or volunteers to help find her, Brush said.

"Next time you come into Nelson, everything will be pink," said Lisa Puchalski, an employee at the Lovingston florist shop and a 12-year resident of Wingina. Within a few minutes, a pile of pale pink ribbons had taken shape as more were steadily added.

"We were called to ask to participate and there was no question," Brush said. "I don't believe that you could ask a Nelsonian to help you and they'll turn you down."

Brush said she was sure other calls for assistance were being made throughout the county, and all of them were being answered with as much vigor as in her shop.

"We all care about this," she said.

Many have taken to social media sites as well as hit the pavement to spread the word about Alexis.

This sense of caring is nothing new in Nelson, residents say, just more apparent now that it's needed on a larger scale.

"It's a small community," Puchalski said. "If something happens in the community everyone comes together. It doesn't matter if you're from this side of the mountain or the other."

Nelson covers 474 square miles and has more than 15,000 people.

"We're big but we're small," Puchalski said, a sentiment echoed by Nelsonians for years.

Despite the large area, Puchalski described Nelson as a place where everyone knows each other, especially those with kids involved in the school system, which provides for more opportunities to interact with others. She said she runs into someone she knows whenever she leaves the house.

Neighbors are a part of each other's lives and keep an eye out for when things are a miss.

"They know how things go so if someone does something out of the ordinary, someone will catch it," Puchalski said.

For example, if a light isn't seen in a neighbor's house, or one is on when it shouldn't be, people will start to worry, Brush said.

"People do that not to be nosey, but because they care," Brush said.

Connie Brennan, vice chairwoman for the Nelson County Board of Supervisors said this sense of family throughout the county is a strong part of what makes it special.

"Nelson is a diverse community but everyone pulls together to help everyone else, regardless of where they live or what their circumstances," she said.

"Even though we're spread out there's a sense of belonging to a special place."

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