BAR HARBOR, Maine — State police confirmed late Sunday that a missing 19-year-old woman was found dead just outside the heart of town this weekend.
Searchers discovered the body of Mikaela Conley at noon Saturday in thick woods close to the Conners-Emerson School in Bar Harbor. An autopsy began Sunday and will continue Monday, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, who released a statement shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday.
McCausland did not say how Conley died but did say state police would return to Bar Harbor on Monday. He asked anyone with information about the case to call investigators at 973-3700.
Residents assumed Conley, who had been missing since Thursday, was the subject of the police investigation. Mourning neighbors left bouquets of red roses and simple wildflowers Sunday next to a photograph of Conley propped on the steps of her family’s downtown restaurant, 2 Cats.
A short note posted Saturday evening on the Facebook page for 2 Cats told of the family’s loss and thanked the community for its support.
“Our hearts are broken with the loss of Mikaela,” the post read. “Thank you to all who searched for her and prayed for her safe return. The Island community is so close knit and caring. In our grief we are comforted by your thoughts and prayers.”
Officials made public few details about the circumstances around the woman’s death. The lack of information was frightening to many in town, but that didn’t stop the outpouring of support and love to Conley’s family and friends.
“Bar Harbor is a very close-knit community. Everyone helps everyone,” Monica Stanley, owner of the restaurant 59 Cottage, said Sunday afternoon. “It could have been anyone’s child, and in this community, it’s as if it was everyone’s child.”
Those words were echoed by others in town.
“Regardless of the actual facts of what happened here, it’s one of our own, so it hits very hard,” Matthew Hochman, a downtown coffee shop owner and Bar Harbor Town Council member who knows Conley’s family, said.
Conversations in Hochman’s Trailhead Cafe, social media chatter, and the gloomy, strained faces of those in town all revealed that people were very upset, he said. But mostly, he said he saw townspeople comforting each other and trying to be there for Conley’s family.
Conley had grown up in 2 Cats, the breakfast eatery owned by her stepfather and family, Stanley said, and she enjoyed working in the restaurant industry. Stanley described the young woman as a vibrant, bubbly teenager who came from a well-loved local family.
“When you saw her around town, her smile made you smile,” she said. “She was only 19 and her life was just beginning.”
The area where Conley’s body was found, a small but thick copse of trees around the back end of the elementary school, is known as a place where underage youth go to hang out, residents said.
Eddie Brook runs through it, and visitors can sit on small ridges without being seen from the road or school property.
Tree trunks and a thick canopy of leaves ensure some privacy, while the school playgrounds and soccer practice field make passers-through an ordinary occurrence. Empty cans of Natty Daddy and Twisted Tea malt liquor sit amid fallen trees and greenery.
State police appeared to walk through the wooded area directly behind the school Saturday, pointing to spots on the ground and discussing them. Two game wardens working Sunday were about 125 feet to the southeast, alongside the building, doing forensic site mapping with a surveyor’s transit and a tripod.
Lynn Robinson, whose home borders the soccer field, said it’s common for her to hear people walking through the school grounds or along the streets well after dark, usually after bars close. The first sign of trouble came to her Thursday or Friday night, she isn’t sure which, when a police officer arrived at her door and asked if she had seen anything unusual. She hadn’t.
Scores of searchers combed the area looking for Conley Friday and Saturday, with helicopters buzzing overhead. Conley’s mother, Danielle Timoney, pleaded for help finding her daughter in a Friday post that was widely shared on Facebook.
By noon Saturday, a state police tracking dog and handler found a body in the woods between the elementary school and the intersection of Route 3 and West Street. The discovery shocked residents, who said they ordinarily feel safe in their small town. On Saturday night, some in Bar Harbor locked doors that almost always remain unlocked, and others made doubly sure that friends got home safe at night. Many spoke of losing a feeling of security that they had taken for granted, and of a desire to hold loved ones a little closer in the wake of Conley’s death.
“There’s always been a large feeling of safety and security here. You know people. You know everybody,” Tim Rich, owner of the Independent Cafe in Bar Harbor, said. “A real feeling of safety was shattered for a lot of people yesterday.”
With many questions and few answers available yet about what befell Conley, Bar Harbor residents are worried, he said.
“I can tell you that I’m terrified,” Rich said. “At my cafe, on slow nights we have one person closing, and I’m not comfortable with that anymore.”
Kristin Clements, a gardener who has lived in Bar Harbor for five years, said Conley’s death has been hard to take in.
“There’s definitely a ton of shock,” she said. “There’s a kind of misbelieving that it’s real and that it’s happening. And people are really reaching out to her family. The community is so close, I know there’s going to be a ton of outreach and a ton of help … but there’s also a huge sense of fear. I hate that. I don’t want to live in fear.”
Most of all, residents spoke of sadness in thinking about Conley’s tragic death.
“She wasn’t given a chance to grow up and really experience what the world had to offer,” Rich said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
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