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Modern testing produces lead in cold Massachusetts murder case

NORTHAMPTON, Mass (Reuters) - Nearly two decades after a 10-year-old girl went missing while on vacation in Massachusetts and was later found dead, officials said modern forensic testing had opened a new lead in the once cold case.

The district attorney and authorities working on the case hope the fresh evidence, which they say links a man to the crime scene, as well as a new $15,000 reward, will stimulate useful leads from the public to help solve the mystery.

Holly Piirainen, 10, of Grafton vanished in 1993 while vacationing with family at a cottage in Sturbridge, in western Massachusetts, officials said. She was last seen by her father as she headed to a nearby home to play with puppies.

While subsequently searching for Holly down the street, her father found only her left sneaker, and reported her missing.

Hunters found the girl's skeletal remains in an area of heavy brush in nearby Brimfield more than two months later following a massive search by authorities from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. But the case remained unsolved.

This year, however, a piece of evidence found near the girl's remains in 1993 and retested using modern forensic technology produced an "indisputable match" to a person, Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni said.

The person, identified as David E. Pouliot, formerly of Springfield, died in 2003. He has not been named as a suspect, Mastroianni told a news conference.

But Pouliot, an active local hunter and fisherman, did have "a familiarity and a connection to that very area where Holly disappeared and where her remains were found," the district attorney said.

The piece of evidence, which Mastroianni did not describe, suggests Pouliot, possibly with other people, was in the immediate area around the time Holly disappeared and died. All other evidence and leads were being reviewed in light of the discovery, he added.

Mastroianni displayed pictures of Pouliot, including a 1999 booking photo showing a man with short, dark hair, glasses and a full beard, but he did not say how he died in 2003. He also declined to discuss Pouliot's arrest record.

Officials said the public's help was vital to the investigation, and were asking anyone who interacted with Pouliot from 1993 to 2003 to contact authorities.

Appearing with Mastroianni, State Senator Stephen Brewer and State Representative Todd Smola also announced a $15,000 reward for information prompting an arrest and conviction in the case.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Lauren Keiper and Cynthia Johnston)