Police believe body found in woods is Franklin student
FRANKLIN — A nearly weeklong search for missing Duke University student Michael Doherty came to a tragic end Saturday when a body believed to be that of the 20-year-old was recovered from woods near Interstate 495, authorities said.
Around 2:30 p.m., two civilians searching in dense woods and thick underbrush found the body of a white male, Franklin police said in a statement.
A positive identity will not be available until an autopsy is performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
But the body “is believed at this time to be Michael Doherty,” police said.
There was no evidence of foul play, Franklin Police Chief Thomas J. Lynch told reporters Saturday night.
Doherty was a junior at Duke, where he was studying engineering. In a statement Saturday, university spokeswoman Kristen Brown said, “We have heard the sad news.
. . . Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Doherty family during this difficult time.”
Doherty was last seen around 1:30 a.m. last Sunday as he left a party on Phyllis Lane in Franklin.
When he did not return to his family home about a mile away on Catherine Avenue, Doherty’s parents reported him missing to Franklin police. His shoes and shirt were found later Sunday, authorities said.
Deputy police chief James A. Mill said it appeared that after leaving the party, Doherty entered the woods at Oak Street Extension, where Doherty’s shirt and one untied shoe were found.
He apparently crossed Mine Brook and reached the Maplegate Country Club, where his second shoe was found, and then crossed back over the brook and wound up near I-495.
“It looks like he was just trying to fight his way home,” Mill said after a press briefing Saturday night.
The body was found about 450 feet from the highway in an area that law enforcement had searched earlier in the week.
“There’s some incredibly thick brush. . . . It’s just almost impossible, unless you’re right on top of something, to find it,” Mill said.
Franklin police and fire remained at the scene on a rural stretch of Besso Street near I-495 for several hours late Saturday afternoon.
Residents who live in nearby homes say the land can be treacherous.
“It’s just absolute swamp back there,” said a man, who declined to give his name.
Doherty had gone to a friend’s party and planned to get a ride home, his parents said. When he decided to stay late, he texted his brothers for a ride. But when they did not respond because they were asleep, Michael apparently decided to walk home, the Dohertys said.
An exhaustive search ensued, led by Franklin police and fire, State Police, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and regional law enforcement agencies.
The investigation into Doherty’s disappearance will continue by local police and State Police detectives assigned to the office of Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey, Franklin police said.
At the Doherty family home Saturday night, relatives and friends gathered to comfort the family.
A relative who asked not to be identified thanked the community for its prayers and support.
“They were awesome,” said the relative, who stood on the front porch. “Just going out and searching, providing supplies.”
Neighbor Brian Pryhoda, who lives across the street, said Michael Doherty was “just a lovable young man.”
“We are devastated,” said Pryhoda, 62, who said he watched Doherty grow up.
On Saturday, Franklin police thanked all involved in the search and expressed sympathy to the Doherty family.
“The thoughts and prayers of all the members of the Franklin Police Department and all of the other agencies that participated in searching for Michael go out to the Doherty family in this time of great tragedy,” police said in a statement.
John Ellement and Andy Rosen of the Globe staff and correspondents Jacob Carozza, Bret Hauff, and Adam Sennott contributed.