Missing Sophie going through “rough time” prior to disappearance – police say
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A desperate search has taken place for a student who disappeared near her family's seaside home over Christmas.
Sophie Smith, 21, went missing from a house in Avondale Road, Gorleston in the middle of the night between Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
She left the house wearing just a vest and shorts, without her mobile phone.
Family, friends and volunteers joined the emergency services to scour the seafront in the hope of finding the University of East Anglia (UEA) biomedicine student.
Her last known whereabouts were confirmed by CCTV images, placing her near the house at about 3am on Tuesday.
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Insp Will Drummond, who is leading the search efforts for Norfolk Police, said Sophie had 'withdrawn' in the run up to her disappearance and they do not believe her disappearance to be suspicious.
He added: 'I know that Sophie has been going through a rough time prior to going missing. I can't really say any more than that at the moment but it forms part of our enquiries.
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'This is the first time she has gone missing, which makes it very concerning for us and also the fact she doesn't have a mobile phone with her, so it would be very hard for her to reach out or for us to make contact with her.
'We are increasingly concerned about her due to her previous behaviour just before going, and the fact we think she left so unprepared for the weather with regards to clothing.
'It's worrying because it's the first time she's gone missing, the weather is extremely cold outside and we know she doesn't have any other clothes there.
'We have spoken to all her family and friends at this time and she has not made contact with them, which makes us increasingly concerned for her.'
He added that dedicated officers are working with the family and any new information is going straight to them.
Sophie's family and friends took to social media to share photos of her to help jog people's memories in the efforts to find her and posts were shared thousands of times.
In an emotional plea on her Facebook page, Sophie's mum Lynn Shaw wrote: 'Sophie Smith u are my world, please come home. Please just walk thru the door.'
Community come out to help search
A Facebook group has also been set up called 'Find Sophie Smith'. It attracted hundreds of supporters in the hours after her disappearance.
The community around Gorleston has come out in force to help in the search for missing Sophie.
The search operation on Wednesday was being led from the Pier Hotel, near the family's seaside home.
Police are leading the search with specially-trained volunteers from Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR). They are focussing their efforts on a 2km radius around the family home.
Chairman of the charity, Eleanor Jones, said around 50 members of the public joined the search efforts, responding to a Facebook post by friends and relatives of Sophie.
She added: 'We're looking for somewhere she could have hidden herself away out of the elements.'
Missing posters have been put up in houses and businesses in the vicinity and police have been going door-to-door in their search efforts.
Police have appealed for any drivers in the area with dashcam footage or business or homes with CCTV to review the images and contact police if they find anything unusual.
A spokesman for UEA said: 'Our thoughts are very much with Sophie, her family and her friends.
'Our paramount concern is for Sophie's safety and welfare and we would urge anyone who may have information about her whereabouts to contact the police.'
Sophie is described as being white, about 5ft 8in, of a slim build with shoulder length blonde hair. She was wearing a dark-coloured vest top and light-coloured shorts when she left the house.
Police have asked the public or anyone who may have information about her whereabouts, or anyone who might have seen her, to contact Norfolk Police on 101.
A huge operation has taken place along the seafront for missing Sophie.
On Boxing Day morning, it included Coastguard teams from Gorleston, Winterton and Lowestoft, police units including a helicopter, two lifeboats from Gorleston lifeboat station and Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR).
But despite the initial nine-hour extensive search operation, Sophie was not found.
On Tuesday morning, the lifeboat searched the shoreline north towards Caister and then south towards Gorleston, but were stood down by the Coastguard after an hour.
A spokesman for the RNLI said this was due to new information received by the authorities.
The Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NorLSAR) team were called out again on Wednesday to assist in the search effort and police are also continuing their search efforts.
Door-to-door enquiries have taken place, with posters also distributed.