Four months after her body was found in woods near campus, Boone Police ruled Thursday the official cause of death of an Appalachian State University student – whose disappearance touched off a massive search in the North Carolina highlands – was suicide.
“For several days after Anna Smith’s disappearance this community was unsettled, due to speculation that Anna’s disappearance and death might have been the result of foul play, but after an exhaustive investigation, we have concluded that Anna Smith took her own life,” Dana Crawford, Boone police chief, said in a statement.
“This has been a difficult and emotional process for everyone involved, however, our search for the truth has been extensive. This family deserves to know the facts surrounding what happened to Anna and we extend our condolences to the Smith family.”
Smith’s body was found Sept. 13 in a rugged thicket on the edge of campus near where she was last seen at Mountaineer Hall on Sept. 2. Her disappearance sparked fears in Boone and on the ASU campus and touched off a search by volunteers, bloodhounds and law enforcement of the surrounding area and hiking trails in the North Carolina mountains.
But Smith had gone about 100 feet into the woods and tied a strap to a tree limb, then asphyxiated herself, said an investigative report by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Raleigh, which noted that she had suffered before from depression.
“Information learned and the evidence collected during this lengthy and thorough investigation has led our agency to the same conclusion as the North Carolina Medical Examiner's Office,” said Boone police Lt. Chris Hatton in a statement.
Smith, 18, an outdoorsy history major from High Point, had been distraught from a personal crisis in her first weeks of college, her family has said. Found with her body was a note, whose contents have not been made public.
Hatton said more than 100 people were interviewed in the case, which had concerned students in the town of 17,000, one of the safest cities in the state according to crime statistics. After Smith’s disappearance attracted widespread attention, another student reported that she’d been brutally raped near the football stadium on campus. That report was later determined to be a hoax.