Police have launched a nationwide search for a popular San Rafael schoolteacher who disappeared after leaving a mysterious message on her classroom chalkboard.
Terra Linda High School students showed up for their English class on Jan. 19 to find teacher Debra Schmitt's desk empty and the words, "Thank you everyone," written on the blackboard, officials said. Schmitt's school keys were in the classroom.
"She just never showed up, so the assistant principal called us about 9:45 a.m.," said San Rafael police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher. "We pretty quickly figured out that she'd last been seen the day before in Ross, where she lives."
That sighting of the 53-year-old Schmitt came at an elementary school, she said. Investigators found Schmitt's car, identification and purse at her home.
After putting out a nationwide missing-person bulletin, police scoured the wooded town of 2,400 to no avail. Since then they have been questioning family and friends and searching trails in the area where Schmitt enjoys hiking.
Police said there is no indication that Schmitt had been kidnapped or attacked, and that she did not seem suicidal.
"Everyone is on the lookout for her," Rohrbacher said. Ross police are leading the investigation.
Terra Linda administrators are trying to be optimistic.
"The thing that's important for us on this end is that we speak on a purely factual basis, and that's what I've been telling the students," said Principal Lars Christensen. "What we do know is that her whereabouts are unknown. I've been in regular contact with her husband, who obviously is very concerned."
Christensen said Schmitt "is exceptionally well-regarded by her students."
Schmitt lives with her husband, Stephen Smith, and their son, Wyatt, an eighth-grader. She has worked at Terra Linda for 10 years, and before that taught at Stuyvesant High School in New York City and Penn State university.
Students are filling the 300-member Facebook "Debra Schmitt Fan Page" - which existed before her disappearance - with worried pleas for her return.
"She is amazing - really, really passionate about what she is into," Louisa Viana, 18, friends with Schmitt since taking her senior English class last year, said in an interview. "She's really open with her students, always helps them with extra credit, always really cares about the class and what she does."
Viana, who lives in San Rafael, said she saw Schmitt a few days before she went missing, and her former teacher seemed happy.
"She was so lively, and like she always does, she had a smile on her face," Viana said. "One of my best friends and I visited her in her classroom and she lit up, embraced us and kissed us on both our cheeks."
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/26/BAT41HELO3.DTL#ixzz1CBiWAv3P
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