WILLIAMSBURG — Ever since 26-year-old Craig Murphey was fatally struck by a truck as he cycled home in 2007, a white memorial bike covered in bright flowers has stood in honor of his life at the Union Avenue corner where he was killed.
His dad would drive to Brooklyn from Boston to pump the tires of the so-called "ghost bike" — part of the city's Street Memorial Project remembering cyclists and pedestrians who have been killed — and friends frequented the spot near Ten Eyck Street to pay homage to "the most stand-up guy" they knew.
"Hundreds of people were at the memorial ceremony," recalled Murphey's friend, Lauren Flax, of the placement of the ghost bike in 2007. "The bike is kept pristine and constantly being cared after."
But last week, friends said, the white bicycle, memorial sign and even flowers disappeared.
"It was his spare bike, which had belonged to his dad, which just made it that much more precious," said Flax, 34, who lived in Murphey's building at the time of his death. "I couldn't imagine it would be gone."
City officials from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Sanitation confirmed that they did not remove the bike, so now Murphey's loved ones are searching for answers about the bike's disappearance. One friend said she filed a police report, but the NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Murphey's friend Jim VanBlaricum, who noticed the bike's disappearance last weekend and sent a group email to spread the word, said he was so "stunned" that "it took a few seconds to process it really wasn't there."
"Craig is buried up in his hometown in Massachusetts, so his ghost bike was our local place to go and remember him and his awesome life," said VanBlaricum, who had come to the corner last weekend to check out the graffiti another friend had just removed on the bike's plaque. "Still doesn't really make sense, it was obviously a memorial...so it never felt like it would be at risk of theft."
The vanished ghost bike has not only pained Murphey's loved ones. Even neighbors who didn't know him were shocked at the possibility someone might have swiped the memorial.
"It's creepy if someone stole it...It's like stealing a tombstone," said Patricia Smith, a home care worker who came to the block each day and vividly recalled the memorial. "Every day I came here I saw it, and I knew somebody was killed here."
To VanBlaricum, the memorial was also a reminder of bike safety for anyone who passed it on the street.
"You see a ghost bike and your attention is immediately drawn to it," he said. "What happened here, who was this person, how can we prevent deaths like this in the future? It's important that we keep these things visible, especially since they're at the location of the tragedy. Seeing a ghost bike might make another cyclist or driver look before turning or go a little bit slower the next time they're on the road."
And to Flax, the bike honored a young man who always put others before himself — even on the final night of his life, when he escorted a woman home.
"He worked at a nonprofit organization up in The Bronx to help combat hunger... He never talked about himself, ever," she said. "He also did something called RightRides, where if you're not feeling safe someone walks you home and then rides away on their bike. He got somebody home safe and then he got on his bike. He was headed home."
VanBlaricum is organizing a fundraiser for Craig's memorial fellowship program at the New York City Coalition Against Hunger that will take place June 20 at the Bell House. More details can be found on the fundraiser's Facebook page.