The Mysterious Disappearance of Terrence Woods Jr.

In October 2018, a 26-year-old TV production assistant ran into the woods while shooting on location in Idaho. He hasn’t been seen since.
Nana Baah
London, GB
Terrence Woods Jr. in London
All photos courtesy of Terrence Woods Sr.

On the evening of the 5th of October 2018, TV production assistant Terrence Woods Jr. disappeared while shooting on location in Idaho.

Terrence had been working on the first season of the Discovery Channel documentary series, Gold Rush: Dave Turin’s Lost Mine, with London-based production company Raw TV. As part of a 12-person crew, Terrence followed host Turin’s journey exploring disused mines in the mountainous regions of the western United States. In the hours before he was reported missing, Terrence posted a photo to his private Instagram page. It showed a forest of densely packed fir trees with a river running through the middle, underneath an overcast sky. He captioned it with one word: “Idaho”.

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Terrence, who was 26 years old at the time, went missing after he ran into a forest in the Orogrande area, not far from where this photo was taken. He hasn’t been seen since.

On the evening of his disappearance, as the shoot wrapped up, Terrence told one of the two local women who had been helping the crew with transport that he needed to use the bathroom. Moments after Terrence had spoken to the woman, associate producer Simon Gee noticed that Terrence had dropped his radio on the floor. The next thing he saw was Terrence running down a steep cliff that led to the forest, where he disappeared into the trees. Gee and other locals in the area tried to go down the cliff after him, but the terrain in Orogrande is rough and unpredictable. They returned with their clothes torn and covered in blood. Gee would later tell Terrence’s father that his son was running faster than he had ever seen anyone run before.

Terrence’s disappearance was reported to the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office at 6:41PM that same evening. According to an update posted to its Facebook page, due to “the late hour of the report”, the search for Terrence did not begin until the following day. Search teams made up of dogs, ground searchers on foot and all-terrain vehicles – along with helicopter teams that could detect body heat – were sent out. Unable to find any trace of Terrence, the search was called off after six days.

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To Terrence’s family and friends, the story of his disappearance doesn’t add up. The original Idaho County Sheriff’s Office report, seen by VICE, says that Terrence was “having a really hard time emotionally and had a mental breakdown earlier today”. When the 911 call was made, the caller – who was not part of the Raw TV crew – alleged that Terrence had been dealing with mental health issues throughout the shoot. However, when pushed to confirm these statements by Terrence’s family in the weeks following his disappearance, they were retracted. When the FOX 5 podcast Missing Pieces attempted to contact people present on the night he went missing, they were only able to speak to one of the locals.

Terrence Woods Jr. with his uncle.

Terrence Woods Jr. with his uncle.

Terrence’s parents, Terrence Woods Sr. and Valerie Woods, both strongly believe that Raw TV is hiding the truth about their son’s disappearance. “He was responsible,” Valerie tells VICE. “He wouldn’t run away without good reason, unless he was scared.” They believe that Terrence, who was the only Black crew member on the shoot in Idaho, felt intimidated or was mistreated by his colleagues. They say that he wanted to return to his home in Maryland.

Raw TV denies hiding any details surrounding Terrence’s disappearance. A spokesperson told VICE: “The police have closely examined the case, including Terrence’s correspondence with us and others, and found nothing to support the allegations you have put to us.” It also denies that Terrence was “subject to any mistreatment or intimidation by the crew”.

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As the last Raw TV employee to see Terrence before his disappearance, Gee had to alert his next-of-kin to the news. Raw TV flew Terrence Woods Sr. and Valerie Woods from Maryland to Idaho the week after their son was reported missing. Gee, along with another Raw TV employee from London, met with them at the Sheriff’s Office.

“The first thing Simon said on the phone and when I met him in the police department was, ‘I had high expectations for your son but when I met him, he didn’t stand up to them’,” Terrence Sr. tells VICE. “He said: ‘I asked him [Terrence] to get me some fruit and he turns to me and says, ‘What kind of fruit?’ My son doesn’t know Simon, why wouldn’t he ask that? He’s known him for three days!”

Terrence Woods Jr. Raw TV missing person

Valerie had a similar phone call with Gee prior to flying out to Idaho, in which he expressed his disappointment in Terrence before providing details about the disappearance. “You know, I had to explain to him that I talked to several people he worked on jobs with, and they gave nothing but praise about the work that he did,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden now, he goes missing and you’re telling me that he wasn’t good at what he was doing. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Raw TV denies that any of its team expressed “disappointment” in Woods, or said that he was “not living up to expectations” at any time. A spokesperson from Raw TV told VICE: “Simon phoned Mr Woods Sr. to ascertain Terrence’s normal behaviour, state of mind and any other information he could give the S&R [Search and Rescue] team. It was raised by Simon that Terrence had been distracted at times, this was in order to establish whether this would be normal behaviour.”

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Almost two weeks after Woods was reported missing, Raw TV released a statement regarding his disappearance. The statement read: “We can confirm that Terrence Woods, a member of one of our production teams, went missing on Friday, October 5, in Orogrande, Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho. All inquiries regarding the status of the search should be directed to the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office."

Valerie and Terrence Sr. say that in the months following this, Raw TV was not active in the search to find him. They allege that the production company has kept its contact with them and others who want answers about Terrence to a minimum.

”It’s baffling, I just don’t understand. I don’t know why it happened,” Terrence’s friend and former colleague, Gia Tabasco, tells VICE. “Is it because he’s a junior member of staff? Is it because he’s Black?”

Some of Terrence’s friends and colleagues who work in television declined to comment for this piece, citing fears of being blacklisted or not receiving work, or a wider backlash within the television industry.

VICE was shown an email exchange between Raw TV and a friend of Woods, who wishes to remain anonymous. Dated July 2020, the email was sent to a number of senior staff members at Raw TV, including Joely Fether, the company’s CEO. Its subject line was “Black Lives Matter”, and the message asked whether the production company would speak out about Woods’ disappearance, as well as asking for more information on its plan to encourage diversity.

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Fether responded to the email, describing Woods’ disappearance as “heart breaking [sic]” and stating that Raw TV “continue to hope'' that he will be found. She did not say whether she or any other representative from the company would be willing to meet with Woods’ parents, or review its diversity policies. Fether did, however, note that the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office “commended Raw for our support”.

News of Woods’ disappearance began to make its way to London. Friends that Maryland-born Woods made during his five years in the UK – first as a student at the American International University, then working on shows like The Voice UK – were rocked by the news. A 2019 tweet from one reads: “I lost touch with him when he moved back to USA from London and was googling his name to see if he wanted to meet up as I am planning to go to Washington DC. I didn’t expect to find that he was missing."

WhatsApp Image 2020-08-12 at 18.16.56.jpeg

Terrence worked as a runner and production assistant on British television shows including 'The Voice UK'.

Cherlynn Andrew-Wilfred met Woods when they worked together on The Voice UK in 2017. They became close, quickly developing a sibling dynamic. On the night of his disappearance, Andrew-Wilfred’s boss at The Voice UK, who had also worked with Woods, called her to break the news.

As Andrew-Wilfred understands, it’s possible that she was alerted to Woods’ disappearance before his parents, due to Raw TV not having their phone number or contact details. It had to reach out to the production company where her boss worked in order to find these details. (Raw TV claims that the next-of-kin details provided to them by Terrence were those of a friend in London).

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For Tabasco, who met Woods in 2016 and describes him as “the most pure”, the news came from Facebook. “I just screamed. I started crying,” she says. “It just didn’t make sense. You know if somebody’s going through something or they’re a stressful person or whatever, you’re like, ‘OK, cool the person took off because of mental health’ or whatever. For Terrence to run off? It’s very bad.”

Like Valerie and Terrence Sr., some of Terrence’s former colleagues raised concerns about his treatment by Raw TV. An ex-Raw TV employee tells VICE that there is a “laddy” culture at the company. “There was a toxic undercurrent which made me feel very uncomfortable,” they said. “There were conversations where they would make disparaging comments about people they were looking to hire. It made me feel quite uncomfortable.”

This ex-employee, who also worked on the Gold Rush series, said that while toxic work culture sadly isn’t a rarity in the TV industry, Raw TV was one of the most difficult places they had worked. “I’ve worked on similar feeling shoots, but [Raw TV] was different in the sense that it felt entrenched within the culture,” they said.

Raw TV denies these claims, saying that “this is not reflective of the culture at Raw”.

Following Terrence’s disappearance, Tabasco says that there needs to be better mental health support for people who work in television – especially those in junior roles like Terrence. “You literally just have to fend for yourself. I think it’s so sad that it happened to him because he is one of the nicest, calmest, most gentle people,” she says. “It’s not making sense at all. I have to speak out because it’s a human life. I don’t feel like I should just let this get swept under the carpet. If we have to use Terrence to make an example of that, then so be it.”

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Family photos of Terrence as a child in Maryland.

Family photos of Terrence as a child.

Rochelle Newman, another friend of Terrence who also works in television, says that a full investigation should be launched into his disappearance. “We need a timeline of events from when Terrence arrived in Idaho until they said that he disappeared. We need a full investigation into the crew,” she says. “If it was me who was filming and travelling for work, I would want the same to be done.”

The details of the night Terrence went missing may remain unclear, but his friends and family are determined to find answers. Earlier this month, a group of them started the Instagram account @findterrencewoods, and Andrew-Wilfred has publicly called out Raw TV for what she sees as their lack of care for Woods’ mental wellbeing. This came after Fether appeared on a panel at the Edinburgh Television Festival discussing work culture and diversity. Another tweet by Newman, which includes a video about the night Terrence went missing, has received 2,600 retweets and counting. Last week, entertainment news website Deadline published a long piece on the story.

In a statement provided to VICE, Raw TV said: “Terrence was a popular figure at Raw, he was a well-liked and valued member of the production team and his disappearance deeply affected us all. Terrence went missing in a remote, densely wooded and mountainous area in Idaho that was particularly challenging to search. From the outset, our location team was actively involved in the search for Terrence and we put a great deal of effort and resource into trying to locate him, which included flying his mother and father, along with two of Raw’s executives, to Idaho to help with the investigations being carried out by the Sheriff’s Office.

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We have the deepest sympathy for Terrence’s family and friends. It is truly heartbreaking that Terrence has not been found, and we continue to hope that he will be. In such a tragic case there will inevitably be speculation about his disappearance, which is neither helpful or fair to Terrence, his family or the crew who worked so hard to try and help. The thorough police investigation has found no evidence to support any of the speculative claims, and this remains a tragedy.

The Sheriff’s Office has acknowledged that we did all that we were able to do to help and went well beyond any reasonable expectation in the search. We will maintain regular contact with the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office and the case remains open until it is resolved.”

Two years on from the shoot in Idaho, Terrence’s friends laugh as they remember stories about him. For Andrew-Wilfred, his inability to cook sticks out in her mind.

“All he liked was mushrooms and McDonald’s,” she says. “One day, we were like, ‘If you like mushrooms so much, why don’t you try this pasta?’ and then he was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had, I’m going to have it everyday’ – and he did! He was true to his word, just really sweet.”

Tabasco, who took Woods under her wing when he was training to be a runner, remembers his dedication to getting a good night’s sleep. “He’s so responsible. We used to go to the pub, and everyone would stay until at least 9PM but he would leave at around 7PM and I used to laugh at him and be like, ‘Why are you leaving now?’” she says. “He’s really to himself and selective of who he hung around with. If he likes you, he’d chill with you the whole day.”

While these memories are precious, everyone I spoke to who knew Terrence wants clarity about what happened on the night he went missing. Valerie is determined to find her son.

“We kept getting conflicting information,” she says. “One minute [the police department are] saying the case is closed and the next, they’re saying it’s still active. I haven’t heard anything from them in over a year now.”

When contacted by VICE for clarification on the status of Woods’ case, the Idaho Sheriff County’s office said: “Terrence Woods is still missing, and his case is still open, but not active. We follow up on any new information, of which there has been very little, but do not have anyone actively searching for him. There's no specific amount of time a missing person case remains active. It remains open as long as the person is missing, but is closed regarding man hours spent searching when we have done all we can do.”

Back home in Maryland, Terrence Sr. says that each day since Terrence’s disappearance has been just as hard as the first. “I don’t want to watch no movies with someone running through the woods because I think of my son,” he says. “If I close my eyes, I see my son, crying and yelling. Some nights I hear my son saying, ‘Dad! Dad!’ I walk around the house and look at his room.”

He keeps photos of Terrence on his dresser, and a painting he did hangs above the closet. The Dodge Charger Hemi he bought for his son sits unused on the driveway. Every so often, Terrence Sr. runs the engine so that the battery won’t run down before his son, he hopes, returns.

“The last time I saw T, I took him to the airport and he said, ‘See you later, Dad’ and I said, ‘See you sooner’, just like I always did and I hugged him,” Terrence Sr. says. “Anytime I’ve got to go over to the airport for work, I really don’t like going because I see the bay that I took my son in.”

@nanasbaah