December 07. 2013 7:53PM

Joseph W. McQuaid: Keeping public in the dark isn't helping find Abigail

FBI and state Attorney General officials involved in the case of the missing North Conway girl ought to be called to account for what seems a sloppy, hapless, and at times self-promoting performance. The tragedy is that the lack of promptly sharing basic information with the public hasn't helped find Abigail Hernandez, may in fact have hindered the search, and has needlessly added to an entire community's anxiety.

Illustrative of the circular logic employed here was authorities' refusal to provide in advance of a Friday press conference the "substantive information" they claimed to "have developed" and that was beginning to leak out last week. To wit:

Abigail was alive at least two weeks after her Oct. 9 disappearance; she wrote a letter to her family on Oct. 22, and her mother received it on Nov. 6.

Associate AG Jane Young said that this was indeed information "we want to pass on to the public," but she refused to "pass it on" Thursday night. The FBI's response was just as lame.

"That's why you have a press conference," said Agent Kieran Ramsey.

Not exactly. In a case like this, a press conference ought to be to amplify and reiterate the known information in the hopes of getting it out to a wider audience. But that is what has been wrong with these agencies' performance in this case all along. Rather than share information, they have clammed up, allowing misinformation to stand uncorrected for days.

Incidentally, despite Agent Ramsey's boast, they didn't "develop" anything here. The girl wrote a letter, which the FBI has known about for a month and which surely didn't take a month to verify. That kind of information might have and we hope may still trigger something with someone who has seen or heard something.

But the FBI and AG still don't get it. They want people to look for strangers in their midst, but they refused to say where Abigail's letter was postmarked, neither the town, nor the state, nor even the region; and their ballyhooed press conference was abruptly ended after just 15 minutes.

We hope Abigail is okay. We pray for her safety and we applaud the efforts of volunteers like Paul Kirsch who have worked tirelessly to get out whatever information they have about the case. The authorities could learn from them.