Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since its original publication last night. See asterisks.
By Jesse Wood
Sept. 10, 2014. Anna Marie Smith, the 18-year-old freshman student at Appalachian Student who has been missing since Sept. 2, was assaulted days before her disappearance, her parents say.
This new information came to light at a press conference the family held on Wednesday night in the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Boone. The assault is the source of the emotional turmoil that Smith was experience before she went missing.
At a press conference on Monday earlier in the week, family spokesman Dana McKim said: “We know that Anna was very sad. She was very upset over the course of the previous weekend. She was really struggling with emotions she was having. So we know that whenever she disappeared, we suspect that there was some sadness that we don’t know in great detail what all of that was about.”
On Wednesday, McKim said Smith was off campus in Boone with a “group of people” at the time off of the assault. An exact date of the assault is unknown, but McKim said it took place during the week prior to the weekend of Labor Day. Smith shared her experience with her parents, Dan and Laurie Smith, when she visited them at their home in High Point on Sunday, Aug. 31, – two days before she went missing.
“We don’t have a whole lot of info about what was going on with her. She did communicate some info to her family about events that took place during that week. She herself wasn’t quite sure how to describe what happened to her,” McKim said, adding that Smith didn’t report the incident to authorities.
Asked whether it was a sexual assault, McKim said, “Again that detail, even from her, was not 100 percent clear.”
“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.
McKim said that he assumed Smith’s parents reported this incident to the authorities “early on in the process,” after Smith was reported missing. McKim said that he was now releasing this info because of postings that had been made related to this incident on social media, Facebook in particular.
On Thursday afternoon – following the press conference and publication of this story, ASU sent out a press release noting the continuation of the investigation into Smith’s disappearance.
The release continued, “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.” *
When asked on Wednesday evening why ASU Police hadn’t released the information of this incident, McKim said, “That I can’t speak to.”
However, he said the family wasn’t critical of the authorities for not releasing this information for a couple of reasons.
“I don’t know why that has not been shared other than you have a named victim. In cases of sexual assault, law enforcement goes to great lengths to protect the identity of victims who experience this. If it is in fact one of the reasons Anna left and that info came out at that point in time, I suspect it might be feared that it may drive her even further away.”
Later in the press conference on the same topic of not releasing this information earlier, McKim added, “There is no indication of foul play or any persons of any interest in doing any harm to her. They felt like it was not an avenue to pursue at the time, but hindsight is always 20/20 I suppose.”
Previously, authorities have released a timeline of the last sightings of Smith. She was initially reported missing by her roommate, who last saw Smith at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 2. Then after her disappearance became public, others came forward and reported that she used Mountaineer SafeRide, a university van service that transports students across campus in the night, at 10:26 p.m on Sept. 2. In addition, she was seen near her residence hall, White Hall, on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 6 to 6:15 p.m.
However, McKim said 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.
McKim said that SafeRide dropped Smith off at the Greenwood Lot on the campus of ASU. Greenwood Lot is located off of Bodenheimer Drive and extends behind the Appalachian Athletics Center and borders a university nature park. Tammy Dills, another family spokesperson on Thursday, said that Mountaineer Hall was Smith’s supposed destination from Greenwood Lot. *
Dills said that it unclear where she was coming from and that other people were on the SafeRide van when Smith was riding. However, Dills said she didn’t know if anyone got off of the van with Smith. *
Questions for ASU Police Chief Gunther Doerr on Thursday were deferred to communications staff with ASU. ASU spokeswoman Jane Nicholson said in an email that the Greenwood Lot destination was “misinformation” that hasn’t been included with the university releases, which she said is the source for “verified information.” However, ASU has not said where Smith was dropped off. *
Wednesday’s press conference with the Smith’s family comes a day after ASU officials held a media briefing about Smith and what was described as an unrelated sexual assault that occurred on Aug. 29 but wasn’t reported to authorities until Monday, Sept. 8, at 11:40 p.m.
McKim noted that the report of this second assault came two to three hours after the Monday press conference regarding Smith’s disappearance but that the family didn’t know what, if any, “impact” the press conference had on that person coming forward.
On Tuesday, ASU officials announced that a female student reported being sexually assaulted by an unknown male at 1 p.m. “in a wooded area near the tennis courts behind the athletic complex on the North West side of campus. The suspect was “described as 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 had a buzz-style haircut, scruffy beard and sleeve tattoos on both his left and right upper arms down to his elbows.”
At a press conference with ASU officials on Tuesday, 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 Wednesday, McKim said the family, upon learning of this second assault, was “deeply troubled to hear that someone had been hurt.”
When asked about how the family felt to hear of a report of a sexual assault around the same time and in a location nearby where the last “credible” sighting of Smith occurred, McKim said: “Yes, their minds have been wandering to 1,000 different places once that news was brought forward.”
“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,” McKim said.
But McKim added, “Again, one of the challenges we are faced with is there is no evidence of that anywhere.”
Description of Anna Marie Smith:
Smith has short red or blonde hair, blue eyes, and stands 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slender build. She has nose piercings, a black and white sunflower tattoo on her upper right chest near her collar bone and Latin lettering over her lower left ribs. See different pictures of her on flier below.
University Police continue to ask anyone who may have seen Smith to call 828-262-2150.
*Updated from last night’s posting.