'I just want them home' - Vigil held in Avon for missing teen

Photo of Liz Hardaway

AVON — Kelly Hernsdorf came home from work around 6:15 p.m. last week expecting to hug her children and hear about their first days of school.

Her boyfriend made burgers with the typical fixings as well as home fries — a comforting food to bring the family together for dinner like they do every night.

But one child wasn’t there: 17-year-old Ronan Hernsdorf-Smith.

“We always have dinner together,” Hernsdorf said. “I knew something was wrong.

The Avon High School senior has been missing since Aug. 30 after what had seemed like a nice first day back at school.

Hernsdorf said she’s incredibly worried that her child, who is transgender and uses they/them pronouns, could be in danger.

On Aug. 30, Hernsdorf-Smith took an Uber to Enfield to meet up with an acquaintance, but family and friends have no indication where the teenager could have gone afterward, according to Lt. John Schmalberger with the Avon Police Department.

Hernsdorf-Smith has not used their debit card, cell phone or social media accounts since Aug. 30. Hernsdorf-Smith, who also struggles with anxiety and depression, left their medications at home, as well as other personal items, Firestone said.

Friends and family believe that Hernsdorf-Smith was “targeted, groomed and manipulated” by another 17-year-old into leaving, according to family friend Carrie Firestone. Hernsdorf-Smith met this person roughly 10 days before their disappearance while they were struggling with their mental health.

“Ronan is not the kind of kid who would run away from home,” Firestone said.

Firestone and family fear Hernsdorf-Smith could be a victim of human trafficking and possibly taken to Virginia near Dulles Airport, according to a Facebook group dedicated to the missing teenager.

Schmalberger said detectives are also in contact with the state’s Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team and the U.S. Marshal regarding this case.

Officers have also turned in Hernsdorf-Smith’s laptop for the FBI to analyze, which could take about a week or two to complete.

After discovering the teenager’s disappearance, Hernsdorf found a note from her child saying “I love you all so much. Thank you for everything. I’m so sorry.”

The 5-foot-10 teenager has green eyes and black hair. They were last seen wearing black pants and a black t-shirt, according to a silver alert issued for the teen.

Family and friends said Hernsdorf-Smith is a “gentle soul.” They also said the teenager is a kind, compassionate and artistic person who loves to draw and paint.

The teenager’s room is like a sanctuary for animals, Hernsdorf said, including a praying mantis, crickets, goldfish, guinea pigs and an axolotl.

Firestone said Hernsdorf-Smith comes from a “warm and welcoming” home.

“Ronan’s family is more than accepting and loving,” Firestone said, with a welcoming school and group of friends.

If Hernsdorf could talk to her child again, she would tell her to “Please come home, please reach out to me, please let me know you’re okay.”

“They’ll be welcomed home with open arms,” she added. “I just want them home.”

Family and friends hosted a vigil for Hernsdorf-Smith Wednesday at Avon Town Center Gazebo. The vigil was livestreamed to a Facebook page created for efforts to find the missing teenager.

Family and friends are also raising money for a private investigator, which they have already hired, through a GoFundMe campaign. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $23,000 has been raised of the $25,000 goal.

Any funds not used toward the search for the teenager will go toward finding trafficked children, the campaign states.

Anyone with information related to the whereabouts of Hernsdorf-Smith should contact the Avon Police Department at 860-751-8950. People can also submit anonymous tips via the confidential tip line at 860-409-4235.

liz.hardaway@hearst.com