In South Carolina today, there is no amount of time required before a family can report a person missing. This was unfortunately not the case for many states in previous decades. Had Shari been anyone else, it is likely the authorities would have needed to wait before beginning their search, considering the fact that she was right on the brink of adulthood. The fact that Shari was a diabetic without her medicine, however, created a sense of urgency that got police to act right away. What followed was one of the largest searches conducted in the history of Lexington County.
Air teams were called in to conduct aerial searches. The governor’s office’s Emergency Preparedness Division arrived to set up tractor-trailer’s that would serve as a base for the investigation. These trailers were full of all sorts of equipment, including telephones, radios, and cameras, that could keep the place running twenty-four hours a day.
Authorities were eager to help not just because of the urgency of Shari’s health needs, but also because they were already familiar enough with the Smiths to know it was unlike the girl to have run away.
“She’s not a runaway,” Captain Bob Ford of the sheriff’s department told the press. “We can’t accept any theories that she ran away from home.”
The efforts were led by Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts, who also set up base in a trailer near the Smith home. The plan was for this place to remain accessible at all hours in case any new information regarding Shari or her abductor came in. Having everything in one place meant that they could save precious time—Shari’s time.
They would need the public’s help. Whenever something strange happened in a small town, word got around fast. Soon after, calls came in from locals reporting sightings of suspicious vehicles. Two men who had driven past the Platt Springs Road just after three in the afternoon claimed to have seen Shari standing at the mailbox. At the same time, a car, described as being reddish-purple or maroon in color, was coming up the opposite side of the road, headed directly towards the Smith home. Based off of their brief sighting, the men believed the other vehicle to be an Oldsmobile Cutlass, possibly a model from 1982 to 1984. The driver appeared to be a man in his thirties.
When they passed by, they looked in their rear-view mirror. The taillights of the Oldsmobile came on. The vehicle had come to a stop at the mailbox.