Amanda Smith was 14 years old when her mum drove to a shopping centre to buy Christmas presents and never returned.
This December will be the 19th Christmas she has spent wondering what happened to her as she continues her search for answers.
“It affected all of our lives, but I think I took it the hardest. My mum… we were best friends. She was a really good mother, you know, but then became more of a friend when I got older,” Ms Smith told Dateline.
There was nothing unusual about the night Michele Lyn Hundley Smith disappeared.
On December 9, 2001, about 8.30pm she kissed her children and husband goodbye and set off on the 30-minute drive to Martinsville, in the US Commonwealth of Virginia, to go shopping in her green 1995 Pontiac Trans Sport van.
Michele and her car were never seen again.
‘She wasn’t anywhere’
Ms Smith said her mum shopping at night was part of her routine and it wasn’t until about midnight the family awoke to realise Michele hadn’t returned home and began to worry.
She said her father was immediately concerned something was seriously wrong.
“He was really worried, she had left before, like if they had an argument or something, but would just go to my grandma’s house and come back the next day. But this was different. She wasn’t at my grandma’s. She wasn’t anywhere,” Ms Smith said.
The family reported Michele missing and Ms Smith described the next few months as a “blur”.
Detectives asked questions and followed up tips, “but nothing ever led to my mum”, she said.
Ms Smith has been searching for Michele ever since, but said she recently has become more dedicated to finding answers.
Search for Michele ‘overwhelming’
In 2018, the Vanished podcast featured Michele’s disappearance.
A Facebook has also been created so Ms Smith can continue to spread the word and others can post tips.
“It’s been within the last seven or eight years that I’ve really put more time and effort into this. It’s overwhelming though. Sometimes I have to take a step back,” Ms Smith told Dateline.
Ms Smith said her older sister and younger brother still asked for updates from time to time, but her father had remarried and struggled to discuss Michele.
“He believes she just took off and left him, and us, that night and I guess that’s possible. It’s hard to rule out that she just left all of us and started a new life. But there’s also something that nags at me that something happened to her on her way back home,” Ms Smith said.
Ms Smith now has two daughters of her own and hopes if her mum did chose to leave, she would come back if she learned she had grandchildren.
“My hope is that if she is out there, somewhere, she’ll see this, and reach out, I just want her to know that I would accept her - and welcome her back with open arms.”
On December 9, 2020, the anniversary of Michele’s disappearance, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office released a new plea for information. Dateline reported local police confirmed the case was “an active investigation”, but didn’t release specific details.
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