By Jesse Wood
Sept. 18, 2014. On Thursday morning, Appalachian State University Police notified students that no sexual assault occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 29 in a wooded area behind the athletics complex.
“As a result of the investigation conducted by ASU Police and SBI, it has been determined that the incident did not occur and there is no ongoing threat to the University community. The description of the suspect and all previous information can be disregarded,” the notification read.
Campus authorities were notified of this supposed assault by a female student on the evening of Sept. 8, hours after the first press conference regarding the disappearance of Anna Marie Smith, a freshman who went missing on Sept. 2 and was later found dead in a wooded area near Poplar Grove Road. Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said a letter was found near Smith’s body and “factors” pointed to Smith being “intent on harming herself.”
With Smith still missing at the time of this false report, which was located in the vicinity of Smith’s last sighting, community members feared a predator was on the loose. A family spokesman for the Smith family told reporters that the minds of Smith’s parents had “been wandering to 1,000 different places once that news was brought forward” because they were worried Smith’s disappearance and the report of an Aug. 29 sexual assault were linked.
“It’s very painful to hear and, of course, it has elevated their concern especially in relation to [Smith’s] missing and endangered status. It does give them pause to consider whether or not something has happened to her. Up until that point, it was simply unknown. That additional information that occurred near the time of her disappearance causes their minds to wonder,” family spokesman Dana McKim said a week ago at a press conference.
This false report along with Smith still missing at the time caused Appalachian State University to hold a press conference and discuss Smith’s status and alert the community of the reported assault, noting that officers would continue patrolling with a heightened sense of awareness.
“Appalachian is a campus we love very much, and it is so difficult when we must face challenges like these, but we are also a strong and caring community, and we can and will take care of one another,” ASU Chancellor Sheri Everts said. “I want to send a loud and clear message that those who are not willing to live by a code of mutual consent, respect and concern must hear the message they are not welcome in the community of Mountaineers.”
ASU Police Chief Gunther Doerr added, “This investigation is still in the early stages, but I want to be clear that at this point in the investigation we have no information to suggest that this incident has anything to do with any investigation or any people we’ve been interviewing with the missing student Anna Smith’s case.”
The Thursday morning notification to students from University Police stated that the “investigative findings” have been passed on to the District Attorney’s Office, which will review for potential criminal charges of making a false report to law enforcement.
False reports to law enforcement agencies or officers are a Class 2 misdemeanor.
According to N.C. General Statutes: “Any person who shall willfully make or cause to be made to a law enforcement agency or officer any false, deliberately misleading or unfounded report, for the purpose of interfering with the operation of a law enforcement agency, or to hinder or obstruct any law enforcement officer in the performance of his duty, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”