One chilly winter evening, a few weeks before Christmas, a North Carolina woman told her husband and children she was heading out to do some Christmas shopping and kissed them goodnight. She got into her 1995 Pontiac Trans Sport van, drove away into the night, and was never seen again.
This holiday season will mark the 19th Christmas that Amanda Smith will spend without her mother, Michele Lyn Hundley Smith.
“I’ll never forget that first Christmas without her,” Amanda told Dateline. “We didn’t even care about presents or anything - our mom was gone. Nothing was ever the same after that.”
Amanda was 14 years old when her 38-year-old mother disappeared on December 9, 2001. Her younger brother was almost eight. Their older sister was 19 and already out of the house.
“It affected all of our lives,” Amanda said. “But I think I took it the hardest. My mom… we were best friends. She was a really good mother, you know, but then became more of a friend when I got older.”
Amanda described Michele as a mother who was always there when they got off the bus from school, cooked their favorite meals, and while she wasn’t very strict, she never let them get away with everything.
“Then later on, we just became such good friends,” Amanda said. “I just felt like we had a special bond.”
Amanda told Dateline that on the evening of December 9, 2001, she remembers her mother kissing them goodnight and leaving their house in Stoneville, North Carolina around 8:30 p.m. to go shopping in Martinsville, Virginia, which is about a 30-minute drive.
“It wasn’t unusual for her to go shopping in the evenings,” said Amanda, who explained that her mother stayed at home with them while their father worked as a truck driver. “And she often went to Martinsville to shop. We expected her back within a couple of hours. But she never came home.”
Amanda told Dateline her father woke her up around 12:30 a.m. and seemed concerned that Michele had not returned home yet.
“He was really worried,” Amanda said. “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.”
Michele’s family contacted the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and reported her missing. Local searches were conducted, but neither Michele nor her vehicle were located.
“Years were a blur after that,” Amanda said. “Detectives would be in and out of our lives, asking questions, working off whatever tips they got. But nothing ever led to my mom.”
Captain Marcus Marshall with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office told Dateline that Michele’s case is “an active investigation” but he would not release specific details about the case. He did encourage anymore with information to call authorities.
The sheriff’s office issued a press release on December 9, 2020, the anniversary of Michele’s disappearance, with a new plea to the public for information. Her flier, listing her as an endangered missing person, holds a spot on their Missing Persons page with the hope that someone will come forward with information that will lead them to Michele.
As many more Christmases passed with any trace of Michele, her daughter Amanda became more desperate to find her.
“I was just a teenager at the time and didn’t really know what to do,” Amanda told Dateline. “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.”
With the help of the online sleuthing community, Amanda created the Bring Michele Hundley Smith Home Facebook page, where she shares photos and updates about her mom’s case, hoping someone who has information will come forward.
In 2018, The Vanished podcast featured Michele’s case, but Amanda told Dateline that it didn’t result in any substantial leads on her mother’s whereabouts.
Amanda’s older sister and younger brother, who both still live in North Carolina, ask for updates from time to time, but Amanda says they aren’t heavily involved in the search.
Her father, who has since remarried, still lives in their family home in Stoneville. Amanda told Dateline he has health problems and struggles with talking about Michele.
“He believes she just took off and left him, and us, that night,” Amanda said. “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.”
Over the years, there have been countless stories, rumors and speculations about what happened to the North Carolina mother that night. Some believed her father was involved, others thought her grandmother was instrumental in helping Michele start a new life.
“I have to step back and not listen to the rumors,” Amanda said. “My mom disappearing like that devastated our entire family. I lived with my grandma for a few years and I would hear her crying at night about my mom. All of our hearts are broken.”
Captain Marshall wouldn’t comment on whether investigators believe foul play was involved or if there is a person of interest in Michele’s disappearance, only that she is considered an endangered missing person.
Nearly two decades have passed, but while many are celebrating the holidays with their families this year, Amanda tells Dateline she would just like answers about what happened to her mother.
“If she contacted me right now, I would, well, I’d have a lot of questions,” Amanda said. “But she’s still my mother. I would accept her back. I want her to know that. And I would just be happy that she’s alive.”
Amanda now has two daughters of her own, and her siblings also have children. She told Dateline that she has a small hope in her heart that her mother would discover she has grandchildren and come back.
“My hope is that if she is out there, somewhere, she’ll see this, and reach out,” Amanda said. “I just want her to know that I would accept her - and welcome her back with open arms.”
At the time of her disappearance, Michele was 38 years old with brown hair and hazel eyes. She has a scar on her upper arm and a brown birthmark the shape of a baseball bat on her ankle. Her vehicle is described as a green 1995 Pontiac Trans Sport van with North Carolina license plate ROK-N-ON.
If you have any information on Michele’s whereabouts, call the Rockingham County Crime Stoppers at (336) 349-9683 or the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office at (336) 634-3232.