By Jesse Wood
Sept. 13, 2014. After hours of investigators with Boone Police Department and State Bureau of Investigation processing the scene where a body was found on Saturday morning in Boone, a release from the Boone Police Department states, “Initial evidence located at the scene indicates that the deceased is Anna [Marie] Smith.”
Smith, a freshman at Appalachian State University, was found in a wooded area off of Poplar Grove Road – off of campus – at about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Her N.C. driver’s license and Appalachian State University student ID were found at the scene.
“A state medical examiner is on scene. The deceased will be transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for an autopsy. A timeframe for the completion of the autopsy and determination of the cause of death is not available,” states the remainder of the release.
The Charlotte Observer, meanwhile, reported that “two people familiar with the scene said it appeared to she asphyxiated herself,” something that Boone Police Department wouldn’t confirm.
On Saturday morning and afternoon law enforcement cordoned off sections of Poplar Grove Road in between the old Southern States property and the Bodenheimer Drive connector.
Smith was initially reported missing by her roommate on Sept. 2 at noon. After her disappearance became public, others came forward and reported that she used Mountaineer SafeRide, a university van service that transports students across campus at night, at 10:26 p.m. on Sept. 2. The university also reported that she was seen near her residence hall, White Hall, on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 6 to 6:15 p.m.
However, family spokesperson Dana McKim said at a press conference on Wednesday that the last “credible” sighting is the SafeRide sighting. McKim mentioned that others have said they saw Smith at 6 to 6:15 p.m. near her residence hall – but on Tuesday, Sept. 2, rather than Wednesday.
Spokespeople for the family said that SafeRide dropped Smith off at the Greenwood Lot on the campus of ASU and her destination was Mountaineer Hall. Greenwood Lot is located off of Bodenheimer Drive and extends behind the Appalachian Athletics Center and borders a university nature preserve, and Mountaineer Hall is located off of Poplar Grove Road.
A university spokesman, however, said that the Greenwood Lot drop-off report from the family was “misinformation,” and the Charlotte Observer reported that SafeRide took Smith from Holmes Convocation Center to Mountaineer Hall. It was unclear why she was heading to that dorm and security tapes of poor quality didn’t depict Smith entering the dorm, according to the paper.
Before Smith disappeared, McKim said that she was “very upset” and “very sad.” McKim said that Smith told family members that she had been assaulted in the High Country during the week prior to Labor Day weekend. She told family members this on the Sunday before Labor Day, and McKim said he only released that information because it had made its way to social media.
“She was very upset, she was very distraught, she was very emotional and in all of that she was also unclear about what exactly had happened to her: where, when and why,” McKim said last Wednesday at a press conference.
Following that press conference, ASU sent out a release stating that university police were aware of the possible off-campus assault of Smith, however “no evidence was found to suggest a sexual assault had occurred.”
“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 Sept. 11 release read.
The family’s announcement about her daughter being assaulted came a day after ASU held a media briefing about assault, which ASU Police Chief Gunther Doerr said, “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.”
On Monday, Sept. 8, a female reported to university police that she was sexually assaulted in the woods behind the athletic complex on campus on Friday, Aug. 29, a few days after Smith was reported missing.
The suspect is a white male in his mid-20’s, 6-feet-tall, weighing approximately 200 pounds with light brown hair and green eyes. The suspect reportedly has a buzz style haircut, scruffy beard and sleeve tattoos on both his left and right upper arms down to his elbows.
The report of the Aug. 29 sexual assault on campus amidst Smith still unfound caused “hysteria,” in the words of a reporter with the ASU newspaper, The Appalachian, among students at the university.
And it caused the minds of Smith’s parents “to 1,000 different places once that news was brought forward,” according to McKim, who made that statement at a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 10.
For nearly the past two weeks, the Smith family has been searching relentlessly for Smith. Searches were conducted throughout wooded areas on campus and along long stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mountains-To-Sea Trail. On Sept. 6, the university announced that authorities conducted “a thorough search of several wooded areas on campus early that morning that were previously canvassed. The State Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service were among law enforcement agencies involved in searches since her disappearance.
At about the time the body was found, the Find Anna Marie Smith Facebook page, which is administered by the family, noted that it was currently meeting at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Boone to coordinate continued search efforts.
At brief appearances at press conferences, Smith’s parents pled for their daughter’s safe return and expressed their unconditional love for their daughter.
“I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to help us find our daughter, Anna. What we know, she has no food, no money and no communications. We love her,” said her father, Dan Smith, on Sept. 8. “Anna, if you can hear me, your family is here … Let us take you home.”
Her mother, Laurie, said, “I don’t know what to say besides, if Anna is gone and she can’t come home, I hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again, but if you are here Anna, everyone, everyone, there isn’t a Mountaineer here who doesn’t want to love you. Come back.
On Saturday evening, ASU Chancellor Sheri Everts released this statement:
Dear Members of the Appalachian Community,
I am deeply saddened to share with you that the search for our missing student Anna Marie Smith has ended tragically. According to the most recent Boone Police Department news release, initial evidence located at the scene indicates that the deceased found off campus earlier today, Sept. 13, is Anna. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with Anna’s family and loved ones during this very difficult time. Having one of our own missing struck the Appalachian community very hard, and this very sad news is heartbreaking for us all.
The loss of Anna will continue to weigh heavy on our hearts. I ask that we all join together to support and care for one another as we mourn.
Over the time Anna was missing, countless people were dedicated to finding her. I express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to law enforcement, her loved ones and friends, our students, faculty and staff, and the many others who devoted countless hours to the search and to ensuring that the message about Anna was seen by so many. We had hoped so much that this search would end differently, yet all of these efforts underscore our belief in just how integral each of us is to this community.
Later this evening, Dean of Students J.J. Brown will send a message to our students, assuring them that resources are available to help students cope with this news. Next week, Student Development will place a memorial book in Plemmons Student Union for Anna’s family. This book will be given to them as an expression of our concern and care. As we receive information regarding services for Anna, a notice will be sent to the campus community with those arrangements. Please keep Anna’s entire family in your thoughts during this difficult time.
It is important for each of us to remember that we are not alone. There are always people in this Appalachian community to whom we can turn for solace, caring counsel, and assistance. I find strength in the great power of our community to support those with broken hearts and burdened spirits who have been powerfully affected by the loss of this bright young light.
– This story has been updated.