Smith family photo

Eric Smith, top left, vanished mysteriously after leaving his home in 2013 to hunt deer on his own property in Cedar Bluff, Va. Featured is the last Smith family photo before his disappearance.

CEDAR BLUFF, Va. — The holidays are a particularly difficult time for the family of the late Eric Smith, who disappeared without a trace from his Cedar Bluff home six years ago.

“It’s just rough, with Thanksgiving coming up and his birthday is in December and Christmas coming,” said Dreama Smith, the mother of Eric Smith. “It’s not just for me, that’s for the whole family. The holidays are really hard on all of us.”

On Nov. 8, 2013, Eric Smith, who was 41 at that time, left his home early that morning to go hunting on his property along West Hurt Buggy Road in Cedar Bluff.

He has not been seen since.

In fact, intense searches at the time, combing every nook and cranny of the woods in the area, found no sign of him at all.

The searches continued for two years.

“Despite extensive searches by ground and air over the past two years, there has been little evidence as to Eric’s whereabouts,” Capt. Jerry Davis, Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office, said in 2015.

Since then, the ongoing investigation is still looking for leads.

“It’s still active,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent Marcus McClanahan, who is now in charge of the case. “It’s still under investigation.”

McClanahan said some leads are still coming in and all are investigated, and he urged anyone who may know anything about the case to call.

Dreama Smith as well as others have many questions that remained unanswered, and she has described it as a “complete mystery.”

“He got up that morning on Nov. 8 and went deer hunting on his own property in Cedar Bluff on Hurt Buggy Road,” she said last year. “He was an avid hunter and that was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Smith told his wife he was going to the top of the ridge to hunt and would be back, she said, adding that his wife then drove to Buchanan County with one of their two daughters to decorate a tree for his wife’s mother.

“But when he wasn’t home that evening after dark she came out and got us,” Smith said.

What followed was a massive search, including local people, law enforcement, police helicopter and canine units.

“The search and rescue team from Buchanan One (the mining company where Eric Smith had worked as a superintendent) came,” she said. “The whole community helped and were wonderful. The people in the area would not give up and they kept searching and searching but to no avail.”

Every inch of the woods in the area was searched, she said, and nothing turned up.

“It was like he vanished into thin air,” she said. “You just can’t do that.”

What is even more puzzling is the fact he left his cell phone and cigarettes inside the house and his wallet in the truck.

“He would not have done that,” she said. “He would have taken them with him. He was a mine superintendent and he was on call 24/7.”

Smith said there was no indication of any problems at all.

“He was a happy family man,” she said. “He loved his job.”

She said his gun was not even found, just disappeared.

“It does make it more mysterious,” she said. “We don’t know any more today than on the day he went missing.”

Smith said her son would never have just left. “He would not have gone anywhere.”

Don Hylton, who worked with Smith at Consol Energy’s Buchanan mine and was a friend, agreed that he was not the type of person who would simply walk away.

In a recent letter to the editor on the case, Hylton said it was also unlikely that Smith would have become lost in the woods.

“Anyone aware of Eric Smith’s hunting expertise understood the improbability he was lost,” Hylton said. “Most concluded some unfortunate mishap had befallen our co-worker and friend.”

But Smith was nowhere to be found.

“For days, the woods where Eric hunted were walked in entirety, and then searched again,” Hylton said. “No crevice was left unexamined, every area thoroughly combed. Authorities utilized a helicopter with heat seeking equipment, to no avail. Bloodhounds were employed. The dogs barely entered the woods before circling back to Eric’s home.”

Hylton said that by the following Thursday the conclusion was evident. “Eric was not in those woods where he had supposedly went hunting. The mystery and circumstances of Eric’s disappearance spiraled out of control after the search failed.”

Hylton said he had attended a week-long class in Atlanta with his friend the week before Smith disappeared.

“He seemed fine as I dropped him off to the waiting arms of his daughter and wife,” Hylton said. 

Hylton said Smith did not monitor events at the mine or talk with any mine personnel during his absence, uncharacteristic for any mine foreman, much less for someone as responsible as Smith.

There was no way Smith would have done that, Hylton said.

The grief and dismay over the disappearance continues.

“What we do know is that Eric’s youngest daughter has grown into a young lady without her father,” Hylton said. “His oldest daughter has given birth to a child Eric may never call his grandchild. His wife, mother and father have endured every day not knowing if he is alive or dead. Our community clings to hope he will be found. And we wonder—how did this happen?”

Dreama Smith clings to hope as well, and said McClanahan has been “awesome.”

“We text or talk at least every other week,” she said. “He keeps in contact with us.”

She is optimistic that one day she will know what happened.

“We are still maintaining our faith,” she said. “The truth will prevail, it will come out. That’s what we are waiting on.”

Smith also wants to make sure the case is not out of the public’s eye

“I want him remembered,” she said. “I don’t want him forgotten.”

Anyone with any information about the case can call the Virginia State Police at 276-228-3131 or email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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