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Grim update in search for missing mum

MEGA GROUND SEARCH SAMANTHA MURPHY
Search efforts to find missing mum Samantha Murphy have been suspended due to dangerous weather conditions. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

A volunteer-led search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy has been cancelled as a catastrophic fire danger rating is put in place for the region.

Volunteer group Ground Crew has been forced to postpone this weekend’s search for the missing mother, with those leading the search making the tough decision to ensure “more strain” isn’t placed on SES and CFA volunteers.

This weekend’s volunteer-led search for Samantha Murphy has been cancelled.
This weekend’s volunteer-led search for Samantha Murphy has been cancelled.

“Due to the current bushfires and catastrophic fire warnings, we have made the decision to postpone this week’s search efforts for Samantha Murphy,” a search organiser posted to a Facebook page dedicated to searching for Ms Murphy.

“We don’t want to put more strain on the community or the current SES and CFA volunteers who are already working tirelessly.

“Safety is paramount for everyone.”

The decision comes as a catastrophic fire danger rating is in place for Wimmera on Wednesday as an out-of-control bushfire in Bayindeen near Ballarat continues to burn.

Temperatures are set to reach up to 38C in the region and authorities have warned residents in the area to evacuate.

MEGA GROUND SEARCH SAMANTHA MURPHY
Ground Crew volunteers previously conducted a major search for Ms Murphy. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

More than 300 volunteers previously joined the search for Ms Murphy, 51, on Saturday, equipped with metal detectors and a sniffer dog.

Marked out in hi-vis jackets, the large group gathered at Ballarat’s Eureka Stockade Memorial Park to continue major search efforts for Ms Murphy, who hasn’t been seen since February 4.

The mum of three failed to return home after going out for a run in the Woowookarung Regional Park in East Ballarat at 7am.

More than four weeks on from her disappearance, police now suspect she may have been the victim of foul play.

“We do have severe concerns and are very doubtful she is still alive,” a police spokesperson said on Friday.

“We do think another party has been involved (in her disappearance), whether it be one person or a number of people.”

Police have previously focused their search efforts on the areas around Mount Clear based on intelligence gleaned from phone data but have confirmed searches in that area have finished for now.

On Friday, Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said “everyone” involved in Ms Murphy’s personal life has now been deemed a “person of interest”, including Ms Murphy’s husband, Mick Murphy.

SAMANTHA MURPHY PRESSER
Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt confirmed everyone in Ms Murphy’s personal life was a person of interest. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Brendan Beckett

However, Superintendent Hatt stressed Mr Murphy was not a suspect in his wife’s disappearance.

“Everyone in relation to Samantha is a person of interest in our investigation. We are speaking to everyone that was in her life … so that would include family, friends and work colleagues,” he said.

“We have a number of people that we are speaking to and I can say the family have been absolutely fantastic in co-operating with police.

“At this stage (Mr Murphy) is not (a suspect). Everyone in relation to Samantha is a person of interest. In our investigation we are speaking to everyone that was in her life.”

Police have ruled out the possibility of a medical episode and revealed they have not received any information to suggest “she left the area of her own accord”.