Eighteen years after the kidnapping and killing of a 10-year-old girl, authorities said they have new evidence they hope will help solve a mystery that has stymied investigators since the child vanished during a family vacation in Sturbridge.
Relatives of Holly Piirainen, a Grafton fifth grader, plan to be present in Springfield today when Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni is expected to announce the new lead, which officials said was obtained from forensic evidence. Officials have declined to elaborate but are hoping for a broad swath of media that will help disseminate the information across the state and Connecticut.
“We hope the new evidence may spark someone’s memory, or someone’s conscience,’’ said David Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police. “Holly’s family has waited for justice for almost two decades.’’
Holly disappeared after she and her brother went to a neighbor’s house to play with puppies. Her brother returned without her, and all that was found that summer afternoon was one of the girl’s red shoes. Three months later on Oct. 23, 1993, hunters found her skeletal remains in Brimfield, 5 miles from where she was last seen.
Since then, police have chased down several leads and have suspected at least two men in connection with her death, but no one was ever charged with Holly’s killing.
The current development would mark the first time in over a decade that police have announced a lead in the case.
Rick Piirainen, Holly’s father, said he and his two sons, Andrew and Zachary, who were about 8 and 5 years old when their sister disappeared, plan to go to attend the news conference in Hampden Superior Court.
Piirainen said investigators told him about two months ago that they would be announcing a significant development in the case after the holidays.
“I don’t know much details of it either, so I don’t know how to react,’’ Piirainen said.
But he said he hopes the information will fulfill his greatest hope since his daughter’s remains were found: “Finally, be over,’’ Piirainen said.
The parents of Molly Bish, a 16-year-old lifeguard who vanished 11 years ago, are also anxious for today’s announcement. Magi Bish last saw her daughter on June 27, 2000, when she dropped the teen off at Comins Pond in Warren, where Molly was a lifeguard.
Bish’s remains were found three years later in a wooded area not far from the pond in Worcester County.
There is no hard evidence linking the two cases, but some investigators have speculated about a connection for years because of the close proximity between the sites of the girls’ disappearances. Magi Bish said the two families have grown close, visiting often and attending each other’s memorials and vigils.
The two girls were born in the same year.
When Holly disappeared, Molly Bish, then 10, wrote her a letter, telling her she hoped she would be found soon.
“We’re hoping really with all our hearts that this will be something important . . . that will bring information for all of us,’’ Magi Bish said of today’s planned announcement. “It could just bring some peace. That’s, I think, what we’re looking for in the end. We can’t bring them home but we can bring them justice.’’
In a telephone interview from her West Warren home, Bish said her eldest daughter, Heather, who communicates regularly with detectives, received a text message over the weekend from a Worcester prosecutor. The prosecutor asked if the family planned to attend the news conference and said that the Worcester district attorney’s office was working with Hampden prosecutors on the case.
The family has heard nothing more, Magi Bish said.
“I do hope that if there is any connection that we can get on it immediately,’’ she said. “The hardest part as a survivor of a horrible crime is that you want [resolution], but you’re frightened of it. You definitely want the case to be solved but there is a fear of what you’re going to learn.’’
A spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. could not be reached for comment.
Only Hampden County authorities are scheduled to speak today, according to a State Police advisory.
“I cannot comment on any potential connection to Molly Bish,’’ Procopio said. “I can tell you that the main focus is Holly Piirainen.’’