staff and news service reports
updated 1/27/2011 5:53:41 PM ET 2011-01-27T22:53:41

A search continued Thursday for a Northern California teacher who disappeared after leaving a mysterious message on her classroom blackboard.

Students of Debra Schmitt told San Rafael police they found the message "Thank you everyone" but not their teacher when they showed up for her English class at Terra Linda High School on Jan. 20. Current and past students are turning to a Schmitt fan page on Facebook to appeal for her safe return.

Image: Debra Schmitt
Ross Police Department  /  AP
Debra Schmitt, 53, has been missing for a week.

Schmitt, 53, was last seen a day earlier in Ross, where she lives.

Police said there were no indications Schmitt had been kidnapped or attacked, and authorities found her car, identification and purse at her home.

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She left her school keys in her classroom, San Francisco Bay area NBC station KNTV reported.

Schmitt's cousin Linda Czarnik said the teacher, who has a son in eighth grade, was going through a divorce and had lost three close relatives in the past year, though it was unclear if those events were connected to her disappearance.

"We know it's been a sad time in our family," Czarnik told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's a heavy burden — on all of us — but for her to hurt herself? I just can't see it."

Authorities searched the Phoenix Lake area near Ross and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which Schmitt told a friend she wanted to explore.

Public records showed that Schmitt's husband, Stephen Smith, filed for divorce in Marin County Superior Court on Jan. 11.

Czarnik, who last exchanged e-mails with Schmitt on Jan. 19, said her cousin is "a very strong person, physically and emotionally."

"She was always warm in her words, her conversation, her attitude, at least with me," Czarnik told the newspaper.

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Schmitt's students are playing a role in finding the teacher, KNTV reported.

Dozens of them have been writing on her fan page Facebook wall words of prayer and hope of her return. For example:

"Ms. Schmitt, you were my teacher 22 years ago when you lived in New York. You were an absolutely wonderful teacher, a humane energy who really helped me to write, and to enjoy reading. Your passion was wonderful. I hope you are safe."

"In my life I have never had a teacher be so real with me and teach me so much our english department has a hole in it that will never be filled until Ms.Schmitt comes back i still need her for my senior year."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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