Trenny Lynn Gibson was a 16-year-old who lived with her parents and three siblings in Knoxville, Tennesse. Her brother Robert Otis Gibson Jr., who was a couple of years older, had recently returned home from Navy boot camp in Florida. The two were very close and Trenny was excited to spend time with him.

On October 8, 1976, Trenny’s mother drove her to Bearden High. There was a field trip planned for the day. Trenny, along with 40 other students, was not aware of the destination. Their Ornamental Horticulture teacher, Wayne Dunlap, had planned the trip and was the only adult accompanying the students.

Once the students were seated on the bus, Dunlap announced the destination: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The students were enthusiastic and the bus left the school around 9 AM.

Trenny sat next to Robert Simpson for the 50 mile drive. Robert was a friend of Trenny’s brother, who had asked him to look after her during the trip — Trenny had never been away from her family and home for an entire day.

The bus arrived at the Great Smoky Mountains around noon and parked at Clingmans Dome. Dunlap instructed the students to take the Forney Trail until Andrews Bald, about a 1.8 mile hike. They were to observe the plants, trees, and flowers while there. Finally, the students were told to use the same trail to hike back to the bus by 3:30 PM. They were not to take any side trails or go any further than Andrews Bald.

The students split up into smaller groups and began the hike at their own pace. Trenny was still accompanying Robert. By 1:30 PM, Trenny and Robert had reached Andrews Bald and sat down for lunch. Trenny soon left, hiking back to the bus alone, while Robert stayed at Andrews Bald and continued to explore.

Trenny was wearing Robert’s heavy brown and orange plaid CPO jacket. She had not been appropriately dressed as she thought the field trip was going to be canceled due to the poor weather.

She soon caught up to three of her classmates on the trail. Trenny was walking faster but was joined by one of them, Bobbie Coghill. Trenny and Bobbie then joined two other students further ahead.

It was about 3 PM and they were approximately half a mile from the bus when the group sat down for a rest. Trenny, however, continued to walk. The group watched as she proceeded down the trail and at one point, Trenny stopped and bent down. She then turned right off the trail, as if something had caught her attention. The group got distracted by a fellow student coming up from behind them. When they looked back towards Trenny, she was gone.

In addition to the other hikers visiting the park that afternoon, there were also groups of Bearden High students behind and in front of Trenny. At the spot where she was last seen, there were no side trails. The path was fairly steep and the terrain was rocky. There were sharp drop-offs, dense undergrowth, and a small creek.

By 3:40 PM, students had made it back to Clingmans Dome parking lot. It wasn’t long until someone pointed out that one classmate had not returned: Trenny.

Robert had spent most of the day with her and when asked where she was, he claimed that the two had parted ways at Andrews Bald. She had wanted to go back to the bus but he wanted to track a bear. No other students had seen him hiking along the trail or walking back to the bus.

Dunlap and another student hiked back to Andrews Bald hoping that they’d find her. Unfortunately, Dunlap had to contact the National Park Service by CB radio as Trenny was nowhere to be found.

Ranger Sammy Lail was sent to the scene to assess the situation. He soon made an official missing persons report to the park service and a search was quickly launched.

The bus returned to Knoxville with the remaining students but Dunlap stayed at the park to help with the search. Reportedly, chatter on the bus was that Trenny had left with someone.

Hope Gibson was notified about her daughter’s disappearance at 8 PM after the bus had returned to Bearden High with one less student. As she waited for her husband Robert Otis Gibson Sr. to arrive from the airport (he had been on a business trip), Hope gathered some of her daughter’s recently worn clothes to help the sniffer dogs. Trenny’s parents arrived at the Great Smoky Mountains around midnight.

The search was called off at 3 AM as the overcast weather made it hard to continue. A large scale search resumed at sunrise and included hundreds of people, several teams of dogs, and National Guard helicopters (though these couldn’t be used until the afternoon due to intense fog). A spur road leading to Clingmans Dome was closed in order to prevent people from interfering with the ongoing search.

The spot where Trenny was last seen by her classmates was examined. Authorities found a few broken ferns, some cigarette buts, and an open can of beer.

Three sniffer dogs located Trenny’s scent at the intersection with the Appalachian Trail and followed it until the observation tower at Clingmans Dome. Dogs also alerted to her scent along the side of a road, about a mile and a half from Newfound Gap. There is a parking lot in this area and more cigarette buts, of the same brand, were found on the shoulder of the road.

The large scale search ended on October 22 but a limited search continued until November 2. Authorities found no evidence that Trenny was still in the mountains. Trenny’s father organized his own search from April to May of the following year.

The FBI conducted their own investigation and had two theories as to what happened to Trenny.

The first was that Trenny had been kidnapped. In this scenario, Trenny ran into trouble at the intersection of Andrews Bald and the Appalachian Trail. She would have been taken to a hiding spot, such as Clingmans Dome Tower where the dogs had detected her scent, until she could be taken out of the park without suspicion. Trenny may have gotten into a vehicle on the road where the dogs had also alerted to her scent.

The second theory is that Trenny became lost, perhaps after accidentally following the Appalachian Trail to the tower on Clingmans Dome. It’s possible that she saw headlights from the nearby road and ran into foul play while asking for help.

There is a lot more speculation surrounding Trenny’s disappearance. One theory is that the teenager ran away voluntarily. It is important to note, however, that the students supposedly didn’t know where they were going that day so it would have been difficult for Trenny to have planned some sort of escape.

Plus, she left all her belongings behind — her purse, $200 in cash, over $1000 in her bank account, all of her clothing, and antibiotics she was taking for a recent foot injury. In an interview for WBIR’s Appalachian Unsolved, one of Trenny’s friends and classmates, Kim Pouncey, put forward the idea that someone was waiting for her and that it was her “way out”.

Naturally, it has been theorized that Trenny wandered off and got lost, perhaps suffering some sort of accident or succumbing to the elements. It is unknown what caught Trenny’s eye when she walked off the trail. It has been suggested that she simply needed to relieve herself.

Although not necessarily odd, it has been suggested that the reason Trenny was walking relatively fast to the bus was that something had happened with Robert at Andrews Bald and she was upset.

In regards to Trenny’s family, they refute the idea that she would have run away from home and believe she was abducted.

Authorities never publicly named any suspects, however, there are a couple of pertinent people who should be mentioned.

Kelvin Bowman was a fellow Bearden High student who seemed quite interested in Trenny. A year before Trenny would vanish, in October of 1975, Kelvin tried to break into the Gibsons’ home. Hope grabbed her gun and ended up shooting Kelvin in the foot.

Kelvin was arrested and sentenced to two years in a juvenile correctional institution. Yet, he only served six months and had returned to Bearden High by the time Trenny went missing. Most importantly, Kelvin threatened to k*ill Trenny once he got out.

Some students claim they saw him driving behind the bus on the day of the field trip. But Principal Frank Hall assured that Kelvin had been in his classes that day. Furthermore, Dunlap was sure no car had followed them.

In 1978, Kelvin would be imprisoned after raping a woman in her apartment.

Unsurprisingly, Robert Simpson is a suspect in some people’s eyes. Not only was he good friends with Trenny’s brother, but he was also close to Trenny. The two often went for rides in his car to places such as the West Town Mall. Robert seemed to be very fond of her, however, Trenny didn’t seem to be as interested.

Shortly after Trenny went missing, her beloved hair comb that she always kept in her front pocket was spotted in Robert’s car. He claimed that she had given it to him to keep for her.

While the Gibsons’ were at the Great Smoky Mountains searching for Trenny, Robert went to their home. Even though no one asked him to, and he had not been given permission to be at their house, Robert screened their calls.

He also made an odd comment to Tina, Trenny’s younger sister: “If Kelvin Bowman has Trenny, he will k*ill her. If he does not have her, I think she must have run off with some horny hitchhiker.” Robert distanced himself from the Gibson family and was no longer a close friend of Trenny’s brother after she vanished.

Though not believed to have been involved in her disappearance, Trenny’s jewelry — a star sapphire pendant and a ring — was found to be in the possession of another student at Bearden High. The girl was questioned but did not reveal where she had gotten the jewelry from. She was asked to give it back to the Gibson family as it had sentimental value. And although she agreed to return the jewelry, the Gibsons never got it.

The Gibson family filed lawsuits against Dunlap, the school superintendent, and the school board for negligence. They were all dismissed.

Hope and Robert Sr. divorced during the 1980s. Robert Sr., Robert Jr., and Tina have passed away.

Most recently, Trenny’s classmates planted a tree and placed a plaque at Bearden High in her memory.

Trenny Lynn Gibson has been missing for 48 years. If alive, she is now 63-years-old.

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