On October 5, 2018, a 27-year-old freelance filmmaker named Terrence Shemel Woods was working with a production company to shoot a reality show in Western Idaho. While the crew was wrapping up, he jumped off of a cliff and sprinted into the thick forrest beneath them. He has never been seen again.
The same day, around 56 miles north, Connie Johnson disappeared under strange circumstances in another Idaho wilderness. However, no connection was ever made between these 2 cases.
It has been 2 years, and Terrence has never been found.
Terrence was from, and grew up in, Capitol Heights, Maryland. He lived there with his parents and 3 siblings, and graduated from the University of Maryland. For several years, he lived in London, attending the American International University, but moved back to the States in 2018.
Terrence was an experienced journalist and traveled the world working on documentaries and TV shows, and was no stranger to tough situations while filming.
As such, he seemed to be prepared for his shoot in the wilderness. His backpack was left at the site, but inside of it was various camera bags, batteries, painkillers, cough drops, hand cream, a phone charger, a tactical knife and a stun gun. Additionally, he had been on wilderness shoots before. He had shot in the rugged wilderness of both Turkey and Alaska, among other places, so he had experience in similar terrain, but not the specific location of the shoot.
Friends didn't realize it at the time, but after the fact, realized that Terrence was oddly apathetic about this shoot. They said he wasn't very excited about it - and that is normal, right? To be apathetic about your job at certain points? But they said that his behavior pertaining to this shoot was unusual for him.
Terrence's father said that his son had no history of panic attacks or any type of diagnosed psychiatric issues.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
In the fall of 2018, Terrence was offered a freelance job working for Raw TV, a London-based channel popular for the Discovery Channel show Gold Rush. The shoot required he be out in Montana and Idaho for several weeks starting in October, concluding in the second week of November. The shoot was focused on an abandoned gold mine called the Penman Mine, located in the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest. The crew consisted of a total of 12 people.
On September 30, Terrence's father dropped his son off at the airport in Maryland. He did not know this was the last time he would see his son. He landed in Montana, and between the 1st and 5th of the month, he was in seemingly good spirits, texting his dad photos of the scenery and enjoying his time. On the 4th, he arrived in Idaho and he texted his dad to let him know.
On the 5th, he did a couple of bizarre things. First, he texted his father a video of a river going through a rocky canyon with no locator or words. Though he may have just been sending a photo of the beautiful scenery, he typically included a message with his texts, so it seemed a bit weird. It also came through at about 12:58 AM, which was an odd time to be texting his father, as it was almost 3 AM in Maryland.
And then, just before 6 AM on the 5th, he told his dad he would be coming home on the 10th of October instead of the 2nd week of November, cutting his trip extremely short, something that he had never done before.
That day, the crew spent the entire day filming in the mountains around Penman Mine. According to the onsite production manager, Simon, what happened next was completely unexplainable.
Here's what he told Terrence's dad:
"So we were finishing up for the day and your son was talking to one of the miners. I was in one of the vehicles doing some work when your son told the miner he had to go relieve himself. Something told me, kind of like a gut feeling, to look over near the cliff your son was at, when I looked over there all I saw was the radio lying on the ground. I originally thought your son fell off the cliff so I leaped out of the vehicle and ran over there immediately. To my shock, your son was already 15 feet down the cliff running like a hare. I've never seen anyone run that fast. At that point I yelled to the crew to get in a vehicle and go to the main road. I proceeded down the cliff after your son but he kept running. Due to my professional SAR training, I stopped running after him out of fear he'd be further scared. So I went back topside and the crew hadn't found your son on the main road. At this point we found the first house with a phone and reported your son missing."
First impression of this - I don't know what context this information was provided in, but I think it is weird he consistently refers to Terrence as "your son", and mentioning his "professional SAR training" sounds forced. So it seems a little sketch, but we'll see.
Another person from the crew eventually corroborated the story Simon shared, and other members added that he was acting strange and quiet during the day.
The 911 transcript said that there was a missing 27-year-old man who had never been in the woods, and that "Terrence has been having a really hard time emotionally and had a mental breakdown earlier today," though that was not included in the timeline.
The following morning, Simon called Terrence's father to tell him that he was missing. He also felt that it was an appropriate time to tell his father that he didn't really like working with him. "Terrence came highly recommended to us and was our first pick. When I met your son you know he didn't live up to my standards," he said to the man who's son just jumped off a cliff and inexplicably ran away.
From the time he was reported missing until October 11, a massive search effort was launched for him, but nothing was found.
So, what on earth happened? There are different theories, and the different theories supported by different people involved.
Law enforcement believes that he had a panic attack or mental breakdown. They believe that he wanted to get lost, either while in a capacitated state of mind or while experiencing some sort of mental episode, though he had never had anything like that in the past. There are conflicting reports of his state of mind before his disappearance, and the police seem to believe the reports that speak to his being in a negative state of mind.
He had apparently mentioned something about a "great reset" in his journal where he said he was tired of traveling all the time and wanted to settle down, which could speak to the theory of an over-worked mental breakdown, or even suicide due to stress, though I'm not sold.
However, his family and friends believe that foul play was involved. The production crew was shady and they believed the police were largely unhelpful. His parents hinted at his race playing a role, and believed that he was in an uncomfortable situation that he needed to get out of.
His sister, Sharnia, had only positive things to say about her brother, and just couldn't get behind the picture of her brother that the police were trying to push. "I talked to him before he went out there and he seemed fine... Nothing abnormal and he wasn't acting different. We talk all the time."
That leads a lot of his family and friends into 1 of 2 camps, which is that he was either afraid of a crew member, or he was actually killed by a crew member. If the former, it would make sense that he ran away, and then he may have ended up dying from exposure or an animal attack, meaning the story Simon shared wasn't entirely false, but didn't have the accurate context. But if you believe the latter, you also believe that the cliff-jumping and running away was completely made up to cover up a crime on the set of a fairly high-profile production set-up.
Other theories focus on the wilderness itself. For example, he may have ran off for any of the above reasons (fear, mental breakdown, a desire to kill himself, etc.) and died of exposure when he got lost and succumbed to the elements. Some also believe that he was hit with the "call of the void" phenomenon, which leads people to do things that involve a high risk of danger when they wouldn't typically do it. Like jerking your steering wheel while driving, or cutting yourself while holding a large knife. If he was already struggling mentally, he may have been more susceptible to giving into intrusive thoughts.
And another one which is kind of creepy is the phenomenon of "panic in the woods" where people feel an overwhelming sense of paranoia and imminent danger while in the wilderness, causing them to panic and flee.
I honestly have no idea what happened here. This is one of the most mysterious cases I've ever written about! Normally, I do think that in stories like this (think Lars Mittank) there was some sort of mental break, and that family members who try to explain it away with foul play are just trying to search for reason in an unexplainable case. But this one? I don't know man.
Sure, they could be lying that he had no previous mental health issues. But even if he had struggled with depression or anxiety, people who have mental health issues don't normally leap off cliffs and run into the cold October wilderness? Something else would have to trigger someone to do that.
While I am not quite subscribed to the belief that he was murdered and it was covered up by the crew, I do believe that perhaps they had made an uncomfortable working environment for him, perhaps due to race like his parents said, and that was what triggered him. He had texted his dad that he planned to return home early that day, so the timing lines up. But still, it seems like a far stretch from being uncomfortable on set to jumping off a cliff. I would have to imagine he thought his life was in some sort of mortal danger, whether that was true or his perception.
It has been 2 years now since Terrence went missing. I would imagine that his body is still out there somewhere, having most likely died of exposure or an animal attack or some other natural cause, even if his decision to run was human-driven. But, I hope this case is solved one day to give his parents the closure they deserve.