FRANKLIN — Michael Doherty sent a text message to his brothers around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. Just days after returning from Duke University for the summer, Doherty had decided to stay late at a friend’s party, and he wanted to know if he could get a ride home, his parents said.
When he didn’t hear back, the 20-year-old apparently decided to walk through the woods in the rain. His family had been asleep, and it was morning before they realized he had never arrived.
Doherty’s mother, Nancy, told the story of his disappearance Wednesday afternoon as rescuers from across the region slogged through the marshy wilderness nearby. It was day four of the search for Doherty, and police had found no signs of him other than a shirt and two shoes.
“Michael was our middle son, the love of my life,” Nancy Doherty said. “We’re heartbroken, heartsick — still searching.”
Relatives, neighbors, and community members were hanging on to hope as authorities scoured bodies of water, marshes, woods, and scrubland along the border of Franklin and Bellingham.
Michael Doherty was last seen around 1:30 a.m. Sunday as he left a party on Phyllis Lane, planning to walk in the rain to the family’s home on Catherine Avenue about a mile away.
The family reported Michael Doherty missing around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and Franklin police have since led a multi-agency search that has included the use of drones, body-sniffing dogs, State Police helicopters, and specially trained regional police units.
“Everybody, all the searchers, the rescuers, all the volunteers, they’re desperate to find him,” Deputy Franklin Police Chief James A. Mill said. He said police do not suspect foul play in Doherty’s disappearance.
The town hosted a candlelight vigil for the family Tuesday night, and supporters have lined the route Doherty would have walked home with unmistakable markers. There are blue ribbons tied around trees, and candle-lit luminaria are arranged on the grassy strip along Catherine Avenue.
Doherty’s mother said the rising junior at Duke was set to spend the summer at home working at Roche Bros. Supermarkets in Millis. The family was planning a summer vacation — they were going to let the boys decide where they would travel.
Nancy Doherty said her son had wanted to go to Duke since he was young, and had been admitted by early decision there. He was planning to lead the club hockey team and was a member of a fraternity.
On Wednesday, cars lined the street in front of the family’s home and packed the driveway as loved ones came to offer support. His father, Dan Doherty, said he had not given up.
“We want Michael here,” he said. “We’re praying for a miracle.”
Doherty was last seen wearing a blue Nike T-shirt, black pants, and sneakers. He is white, stands about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and has brown hair and brown eyes.
There was an obvious law enforcement presence around the area straddling Mine Brook.
Searchers found the shirt and one of his shoes on one side of the body of water and another on the other side, which is closer to Bellingham and the Maplegate Country Club, where search dogs have been working.
Mill said rescuers, who began working at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and planned to continue until dark, had moved their command post closer to the country club to improve communication throughout the search area.
Teams of police and firefighters passed along the main roads through the area, using walking sticks as they carefully searched for any evidence that Doherty had passed through. Some took to boats to examine areas where the water was deeper.
Neighbors on Catherine Avenue described Doherty as a smart, athletic young man with a good sense of humor. Susan Comfort, who lives nearby, remembered seeing him growing up playing baseball out front. She said her thoughts were with the Dohertys: “a real good kid and a real good family.”
Brendan Lewis who knew Doherty growing up, said his disappearance has affected the entire neighborhood: “It’s almost like a gray cloud is over the place,” he said.