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‘I’ve been holding out hope’: Family, friends of Anesha ‘Duffy’ Murnane react to arrest in 2019 case

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 12:59 AM AKDT
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HOMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Like so many in the tiny town of Homer, Stephanie Rodriguez had been holding out hope. At first, she hoped her friend Anesha “Duffy” Murnane might come home on her own accord.

If not that, she hoped Murnane would be found, safely guided back to her life in the bayside community.

“At some point, someone said, ‘You need to decide how you’re going to think about this,’” Rodriguez said. “And I thought, ‘The way I’m going to think about this is, there’s always hope.’”

That was before, though. Now, like so many around her, she’s just hoping for answers.

“The way that I thought about it, there’s always hope until the truth comes out,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what carried me through all this, just having the mindset that there’s always hope until the truth comes out, until we have some facts.

“And that may never happen,” she said, “but if you give up that hope, you might as well say she’s dead and go down that dark alley. And I didn’t want to choose to do that until I had to.”

Murnane disappeared in October of 2019, triggering a slew of searches, rallies and campaigns — both on the sidewalks of Homer and on the internet — as her loved ones searched desperately for any clue of her whereabouts. She’d been picked up, authorities said, possibly taken, and there were concerns over her safety.

“I’d go for jogs down the road,” said Tela O’Donnell Bacher, one of Murnane’s close friends. “I’d be looking in ditches. I’d see something blue ... ‘Is that her jacket?’ And run down off the road.

“It’s been a long time, and there’s just so much processing, you know?” she added. “This is how you see it, and now it’s different. People are going through lots of emotions.”

Rodriguez, another close friend of the Murnane family, also spoke candidly of the grieving process that came with Murnane’s initial disappearance, and the emotions of every development — or lack thereof — in the case. An arrest on Monday, seemingly one of the biggest steps toward possible justice for Murnane, was like reopening a wound that still hadn’t healed.

“Now, there’s not only the grieving process,” Rodriguez said, “but that process that starts again. Is justice going to be served? Another element in this horrible movie or nightmare that we’re having to deal with.”

Since that October some two and a half years ago, friends, family, community members and multiple law enforcement agencies have worked tirelessly in their efforts to find Murnane, or at least learn more about where she could be. Together, they’ve taken and chased down hundreds of tips, according to Alaska State Troopers, in the event one might lead them to her.

A major break came this May, court documents show, in the form of an assist in an alarmingly detailed tip submitted to a hotline. The tip would lead to an arrest, with a 32-year-old Utah man — who police say was living in Homer at the time of Murnane’s disappearance — facing formal charges of kidnapping and murder. Those same court documents recount in horrific detail the alleged torture Murnane suffered at the hands of this man, who is someone she reportedly knew personally.

“We are appalled to learn the apparent circumstances of the death of our daughter,” Duffy’s parents Sara and Ed Berg wrote in a Facebook post. “At the hands of a violent predator. It is especially distressing that the charged suspect was employed by the mental health care system to which we entrusted the care of our daughter.

“If this suspect is found guilty and incarcerated,” they continued, “we will be profoundly relieved that he is off the street and cannot strike again. We pray that further investigation does not reveal additional victims.”

Aside from the details, the arrest itself is a development in the case that has provided some answers, but it’s prompted more questions too.

“Now that we know some information, it does make me feel a little safer,” said Anna Smith, another friend of Murnane’s, explaining how difficult it was to not only be unaware of Murnane’s whereabouts or condition, but also not know who might’ve been involved.

“But then the reality set in,” she said, “that my friend is gone, and I won’t get to see her again, and I miss her so much.”

Smith, who left Homer to spend some time in Arizona before moving back, spoke about the hopes she and Murnane had of traveling to Mexico together. The trip was something they talked about not even a few weeks before Murnane went missing.

“I was hoping to meet up with her, because it’s only a five-hour drive from where we were living,” Smith said. “I’m just going to miss her humor, her laughter and how, you know, fun and goofy we could be together sometimes. She always made me laugh, and I’m gonna really miss her not being here to be a part of our lives.”

Despite the arrest marking progress in the case itself, it’s a new starting point for many of those who are seeking justice for Murnane.

“The upcoming trial process will be a difficult time for all of us,” the Bergs wrote. “We hope that the trial will be straightforward and just, and that we and our community can reach some sense of closure to this horrific event.”

They went on to highlight “the outpouring of help and support we’ve received since our precious daughter was taken in October 2019,” also pointing to the tireless efforts of law enforcement and their community, which continue to this day.

“I’m going to grieve Duffy, and at the same time be thankful and grateful that she was a part of my life,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not over yet, but at least we’ve hit one mountain, we’ve climbed one mountain, we’ve hit that goal, so now it’s time to get ready and deal with another one.

“When you love somebody, you hold on to that hope,” she said. “That’s what I had been doing. That’s what I’ll continue to do, until we see that justice is served.”

An event dedicating a memorial bench in Murnane’s name is planned for next month outside the Homer Public Library. You can contribute to the memorial by visiting this link.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional reaction and information from Murnane’s family and their representatives.

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