Redding, CA

24 years ago, a homecoming queen disappeared. A letter found in her room revealed the truth.

Fatim Hemraj

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Tera (R) with her younger sister, KyraDateline

16-year-old Tera Smith lived in Redding, California, with her parents and three siblings. According to SF GATE, she was a prolific writer, nature lover, basketball player and freshmen year homecoming queen. She was also harbouring a dark secret.

On August 22, 1998, sometime between 5 and 7 pm, Tera told her sister, Sierra that she was heading out for a quick jog on Old Oregon Trail. According to NBC News, Tera wasn’t allowed to go out at night alone but she promised she would be back in 20 minutes. Sadly, the hours passed by and she never showed up for her 7 pm shift at Oasis Fun Center, an amusement park owned by her parents.

By 9 pm, Tera’s parents, Marilyn and Terry were frantic. They called everyone they could think of and that’s when they discovered something disturbing.

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Troy ZinkDaily Mail

One friend told them that she believed Tera was involved in an inappropriate relationship with Troy Zink, Tera’s Taekwondo instructor and a 29-year-old married father of one.

Tera’s parents rushed to Troy’s house. When his wife informed them that he wasn’t home, they called the police and reported Tera missing.

According to NBC News, Troy told the police that Tera called him at 6:30 pm while he was at work and asked to meet. He picked her up down the street from her home and she asked him for $2,000. Troy claimed that when he refused to give her the money, Tera became angry and asked him to drop her off at the trail for her jog.

Troy said that after dropping Tera off, he went to Hang Glider Hill and prayed…for five hours. He insisted that he wasn’t involved with the teen but a damning letter found in her room told a very different story.

The letter revealed that Tera was in a “relationship” with Troy and that he had allegedly been grooming her for some time. She wrote:

This fear is a stronger fear than I have ever experienced before. This fear comes from the fact that I know that what I am doing with you is wrong. There is no way to overlook this fact. It’s against Gods will and we both know it. We have fallen into Satans snare and it seems we are traped (sic). We are traped (sic) because we feel we are in love.

When the authorities searched Troy’s home they discovered several firearms, a violation of his status as a convicted felon. He was ultimately sentenced to 4 years in prison for possession of a firearm but he has never been named a suspect in Tera’s disappearance and he maintains his silence.

Many believe that Tera planned to mail the letter to Troy but ultimately changed her mind and decided to break things off in person, instead. That was nearly 24 years ago and she hasn’t been seen since.

“She just had a really good heart. Tera had a really good heart. I think the world is a better place for her having been in it. And I can only imagine how much better it would be if she was still here.” — Marilyn and Terry Smith

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Tera SmithDateline

According to The Charley Project, At the time of her disappearance, Tera Smith was 5'7" and 135 lbs with blonde hair and blue eyes. If you have any information regarding her disappearance, contact the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office at 530-245-6135.

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Hi, I'm an independent crime journalist covering missing person investigations and resolved cases. I also publish on Medium. To reach out, contact me at fatimhemraj@gmail.com.

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