The death of any loved one can be staggering, but when someone simply vanishes, it can be even more difficult, said Trina Murphy, the great aunt of Nelson County teenager Alexis Murphy who disappeared in 2013 and who is presumed dead, although her body has never been found. After spending the past 18 months seeking answers about what happened to Alexis and acting as the family spokesperson, Murphy wants to share what her grief has taught her. She’s now pursuing a career as a motivational speaker, giving presentations in this area and beyond.
“Obviously if someone’s going through some sort of tragedy, that’s where my niche is,” she said. “Turning tragedy into triumph. For a while, you get really bogged down dealing with the details, how to cope from day to day. You finally get to a point where you’re like, how do I move this forward? I can’t just wallow in this forever.”
It was August 3, 2013 when Alexis, a 17-year-old rising senior at Nelson County High School told her family she was heading to Lynchburg to buy hair extensions. She was captured on surveillance video at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston soon after she left the house, and she was never seen again. Also seen on that video was Randy Allen Taylor, a 48-year-old man who was considered the prime suspect in another missing person case, the September 2010 disappearance of 19-year-old Samantha Clarke in Orange. Investigators found physical evidence including blood, hair and a stud earring in Taylor’s nearby trailer tying him to Murphy, and he was convicted of first degree murder in May 2014. He is currently appealing that conviction.
In the immediate aftermath of Alexis’ disappearance, Murphy said she felt helpless, so when Alexis’ mother Laura Murphy asked for her assistance in helping the family communicate with media and law enforcement, she readily accepted. “When something happens, I can’t just sit around,” she said. “Keeping her story out there, keeping it in the forefront, it was something that I could do.”
With assistance from her cousin Diane Givens, owner of Nelson-based artist management firm 1Krown Management, Murphy, who works full time as a nurse manager, is hoping to spread her message of support and safety further.
“My focus is on the missing, and nobody understands that position unless you’ve been in it,” she said.
Murphy has already participated in panels at area high schools, and she’s also working with Help Save the Next Girl, the nonprofit founded by the parents of Morgan Harrington. Support from Gil Harrington has been part of her inspiration, she said.
“It’s such a pleasure to know her on the level we do,” Murphy said. “I garner a lot of strength and positive energy from her.”
Next stops for Murphy are a panel discussion with various local law enforcement officials on March 30 at Monticello High School, which is free and open to the public, as well as an event at Hollins University through that school’s chapter of Help Save the Next Girl.
Ultimately, she said, helping other families—and helping keep other young women safe—is a way of honoring Alexis.
“My job to build her legacy,” she said.