Three days before she vanished from Appalachian State University, an anguished Anna Smith told her parents that she had been assaulted, a spokesman for the family disclosed Wednesday night.
The Rev. Dana McKim of Lexington said that Smith came home to High Point on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and told her parents about the attack.
Smith was highly distraught over the incident, McKim said. “She was very upset, very distracted.”
Smith, 18, was reported missing from the Boone campus Sept. 3 by her roommate, who was concerned when Smith didn’t return to the dormitory for more than a day. The report triggered a massive search.
Memory of attack unclear
McKim, a family friend who has known Smith since she was 6 and has been speaking to the media on behalf of the family, gave this timeline of the events:
On Aug. 27, the Wednesday before Labor Day, Smith went out with a small group of friends. She was assaulted that night, apparently at an off-campus location.
McKim said Smith wasn’t entirely sure what had occurred. “She was unclear what had happened to her – where, when and why. Her memory of what happened isn’t detailed.”
McKim said he didn’t know the reason for her lack of clarity and said Smith had been struggling to process it herself.
On Aug. 31, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, she got a ride home from Boone with a friend and talked to her parents. She wanted to return to campus to resume her studies, McKim said, and her mother drove her back to Boone that night from High Point.
Smith was last seen on Sept. 2, the Tuesday after Labor Day, at 10:26 p.m. when she used Mountaineer SafeRide, a van service offered to shuttle students around after dark, to return to her dormitory, White Hall.
She did not report the assault to police or campus authorities, McKim said.
Phone, laptop left behind
Sometime in the next 18 hours she left her room carrying a red purse and a blue backpack. She left behind her cell phone, her laptop computer and credit cards. No one has heard from her since.
At 9:42 p.m. Sept. 3, campus police were notified about her disappearance.
Law enforcement traditionally waits 48 hours for an adult to be officially considered a missing person, but authorities began searching for her locally.
Smith’s parents told authorities early on in the investigation about her weekend visit and the attack she described, McKim said.
“Her disappearance has made no sense to people because this is uncharacteristic of who she is,” McKim said, describing Smith as a responsible and caring woman close to her family.
Authorities inspected Smith’s phone and computer for clues to her disappearance and have developed some leads they are pursuing, he said.
Appalachian State University has an extensive network of surveillance cameras, and the tapes are being painstakingly examined to find sightings of Smith to pin down the exact time of her disappearance, he said.
“We need Anna to come home,” said Smith’s mother, Laurie Smith, at a news conference in Boone Wednesday night. “Without her, we’re lost. She’s a vital part of our lives.”
Smith’s father, Dan Smith, also made a brief statement: “We want our daughter back. Someone, somewhere knows something.”
They did not take questions from reporters.
McKim said the family is concerned that the trauma of the assault may have made Smith unstable. “We don’t know if she’s become a danger to herself because of what happened,” he said.
McKim said there has been friction over the last week between authorities and the Smiths from time to time, understandable he said because of the frustration from not knowing where their daughter has gone.
Campus police have said that a violent rape occurred on campus on a trail behind Kidd Brewer Stadium on Aug. 29 but wasn’t reported by the victim until Monday night, after intense publicity was generated by the Smith disappearance.
In that case, the woman was hit, choked and raped by a stranger early in the afternoon. No arrests had been made in that case as of Wednesday, and police have said there is no evidence it is linked to Smith’s disappearance.
ASU police Chief Gunther Doerr said the State Bureau of Investigation is among the agencies involved in the search.
“This is a very complex investigation,” he said. “We are utilizing all techniques including interviews, forensic examination of records, surveillance video analysis and any other available means to attempt to locate the missing student.”
ASU officials said police are interviewing and re-interviewing those who know Smith. On Saturday, about 40 volunteers searched a 67-acre nature preserve on rugged hills behind the football stadium. Nothing out of the ordinary was found.
“We have an army looking for her around the clock,” said Dean of Students J.J. Brown. “Somebody, somewhere knows something.”