TWO days after Leisl Smith was last seen, her father received a mysterious text message from her mobile phone which police believe was intended for someone else.
It read: ”F— you. I can’t do this and I’m not going to keep your secret any more.”
Storm Smith is close to his daughter but had no idea what she could have been talking about. He immediately called her but her phone had already been switched off.
The next day he received another text message, again sent from his daughter’s mobile number. ”I’m really sorry dad. Please don’t be angry,” it read.
That was more than five months ago. No one has heard from the 23-year-old since, in a case that has devastated her family and baffled local police.
Ms Smith was last seen on August 19 – a Sunday afternoon – when she left her family home at Wallarah on the central coast just before 1pm and drove to Tuggerah train station. Security camera footage shows her getting out of her Honda Accord, locking it, and then walking away from the station and not boarding a train.
Police said she did not appear to have any enemies, and they have nothing to suggest she has committed self-harm. Her bank accounts have not been touched.
A close friend since childhood, Renee Gelling said Ms Smith was not the sort of person who would just vanish without letting someone know where she was.
”She’s a pretty, happy, outgoing girl,” she said. ”I don’t think she would stay away, especially seeing what her family is going through.”
Mr Smith said on the Sunday he last saw his daughter, she came up to him, said she loved him, kissed him and that she would be back at 5pm to feed the animals. She did not say where she was going or if she was meeting anyone.
Although initially concerned when she did not return that night, he knew something had gone astray when he received the text messages on the Tuesday .
”I thought, ‘Oh my god,’ ” he said. ”That was when I started to think, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”
More worrying for the family was that Ms Smith, a devout animal lover who was ”bloody exceptional with horses”, missed the birth of a foal in late August. That was an event that anyone who knew Leisl said she would not have missed for the world.
”She was very excited about the impending birth and the fact that she missed the event is worrying,” Detective Inspector Dave Waddell said.
Last November, police appealed for information from the horse industry, believing that she may have picked up work on a farm. They warned that if nothing came from that, then detectives would have to suspect ”something has happened”.
Mr Smith said police had recently told him to ”prepare for the worst but still hope there will be a positive outcome”.
He remains optimistic. He has played out every scenario of what might have happened to his daughter in his head. He believes she is in hiding and, for some reason, is too scared to come out.
Along with posters and a social media campaign, the family is taking out advertisements in horse magazines appealing for anyone with information to come forward.
”I think she would find a way to survive through the horse industry,” he said. ”They offer cash and board, she could be staying on a farm.”
Her sister, Jerildene Smith, has flown from Tasmania to support her father.
”Personally, I don’t know what to think,” she said. ”It’s just completely out of character for Leisl. There are bits and pieces of information that we’ve heard that just don’t make sense. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle when you’ve got half the pieces missing.
”But at the end of the day, we just want her to turn up.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.