A parent’s intuition, says Dan Smith, led him to drive to Appalachian State University on the night of Sept. 3. When he arrived at his daughter’s dormitory, he was told by a resident assistant that there was a “situation” – she was missing.
Thus began an agonizing marathon for Smith, his wife, Laurie, and others concerned about Anna Smith, an outdoorsy teen who was drawn to ASU by the majesty of its mountains and abundance of nature. For more than a week, authorities and volunteers have searched in vain for the 18-year-old freshman who took only a backpack and a red leather purse when she left White Hall and vanished without a trace.
“I have been living a nightmare that nobody can pen,” Smith said Thursday. “I have been in hell since I got to this campus.”
Smith came to ASU to visit his daughter three days after she came home to High Point to tell her parents that she had been attacked Aug. 27 off-campus after a night out with friends.
She was anguished, had only a hazy recollection of the incident and didn’t report it to police, said the Rev. Dana McKim, who has been acting as family spokesman. A diligent student eager to resume her studies, she returned to campus after talking to her parents, McKim said.
Her last contact with them came in a Facebook message the night of Labor Day: “I love you” was all it said.
Acting on a feeling, Smith said he drove up to Boone.
“I’m her dad. She needed me. I needed her. Parental intuition,” Smith said.
He arrived about the same time police were contacted about Anna’s disappearance. Her roommate had become concerned when Anna had not been seen for at least a day.
Smith said he was interviewed by campus police that night and told them all he knew of Anna’s situation.
‘No evidence’ of sexual assault
The Appalachian State University Police Department confirmed on Thursday that it learned that night about a possible off-campus assault. “During the course of the investigation, no evidence was found to suggest a sexual assault had occurred,” the department said in a statement.
“Investigators identified and interviewed a number of people who had contact with her and who might have information about her whereabouts and any related circumstances. Those interviews produced no conclusive information regarding an assault. Conversations with Anna Smith or other concrete information would be necessary in order to move forward with investigating a possible assault,” the department said.
Police said that Anna’s laptop and cellphone, which she left behind, have been examined by forensic experts at the State Bureau of Investigation for clues.
A love for swimming, art
Smith said his family is active, and his daughter grew up kayaking, camping, hiking and mountain biking. One of her passions was swimming, he said, and she was a perfectionist about getting her strokes just right.
“Swimming is where Anna found her peace, her harmony,” he said. She coached youth swimming at the Thomasville YMCA.
Teaching came naturally to her. “As a little girl, she would line up her stuffed animals and play school,” Smith said.
She also liked to draw and designed the sunflower tattoo she got after turning 18 in February. Smith said he wasn’t crazy about her getting tattooed, but he changed his mind when his wife took him aside and told him that Anna had drawn the pattern and it was symbolic of her nature. “She was a sunflower,” he said.
She frequently visited UNC Greensboro, where Smith works as a visual arts specialist. Smith’s wife is a nurse at High Point Regional Medical Center. They have one other daughter, who is in high school. Anna and the rest of the family are active in the United Methodist Church they attend, Smith said.
“We were not what you’d call helicopter parents, but we all were close,” Smith said. “Anna would not leave without saying where she was going.”
Hiking trails searched
Volunteers have been hiking trails in the highlands that Anna liked in hopes she may have retreated there. Volunteers with bloodhounds hiked the rugged Mountain to Sea Trail this week looking for her, but to no avail.
Smith said he wants authorities to put more resources into the search. “If this were the governor’s child out here, would it go on for eight days?”
Smith said he has spent every day in Boone looking for Anna. All he’s found is her bike, still locked up next to the dorm.
He’s walked the campus and the city streets. Everywhere he goes, his daughter’s face smiles at him from missing-person posters.
“I’m not a law enforcement officer,” Smith said. “I’m a dad who wants his daughter back.”