It’s a November night in Florida, and teenager Caitlyn Frisina vanishes from her family home. But while police search the country, the hunt fails to turn up any clues. Then, seven days later, a police investigator spots a suspicious vehicle – over a thousand miles away in New York.
Caitlyn grew up in Lake City, a small city in northern Florida. Her father, Ward, owns Flatwoods Forestry, a local business management consultancy. Scarlet, her mother, used to be a county commissioner before joining her husband in the family business.
Over time, Caitlyn grew into a good student and a devout Christian. At Fort White High School, she developed a particular passion for soccer, taking a place on the girls’ team. In fact, she was so good at the sport that she spent time representing the state’s Elite Soccer Academy.
Impressively, her talents didn’t end there. She reportedly also regularly qualified for the regionals in both track and cross country, in addition to being active in a number of different societies and clubs. Nonetheless, it was clear which one she enjoyed the most. “Soccer was and is my first love,” she wrote on the Next College Student Athlete Recruitment page in 2017.
In fact, a passion for soccer seemed to run through the Frisina family, with Ward acting as the girls’ team coach at Caitlyn’s high school. Meanwhile, the teenager began working with the Columbia Youth Soccer Association as a referee, as well as taking on a role at the family forestry business.
By the time that Caitlyn reached her senior year, she had grown into a well liked teenager, known to her parents as a good girl with a big heart. So when she disappeared from their home on November 26, 2017, they knew that something had gone very wrong.
That morning, Ward and Scarlet woke up to find their daughter gone. Strangely, however, it didn’t appear to be an abduction. Instead, police surmised that the 17-year-old had left of her own accord at some point during the night.
Outside, the appearance of a single set of tracks leading away from a window appeared to support this theory. But what could have caused the seemingly happy Caitlyn to flee her home? Well, later that day, the first clue to her whereabouts emerged.
At an ATM in St. Marys, Georgia, Caitlyn stopped to withdraw $200 from her bank account. By that point, she was already almost 100 miles from home. Then, police started spotting her on CCTV footage, moving north through Georgia and the Carolinas.
Caitlyn was not alone, however. In fact, she appeared to be in the company of
Rian Rodriguez – a 27-year-old soccer coach at Fort White High School, and a man previously considered a family friend. Moreover, as investigators took a closer look at the pair, a frightening picture began to emerge.
Apparently, back in August 2017 authorities had become concerned that the underage Caitlyn was in a relationship with Rian. After launching an investigation, however, they concluded that the pair were just friends. “There was nothing seen to be inappropriate,” Sergeant Murray Smith from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office told the Mail Online in December 2017.
Similarly, Wade and Scarlet were unaware of any deep connection between Rian and their teenage daughter. “As far as we know, he was just a friend,” Scarlet said in a November 2017 interview with the Lake City Reporter. But Caitlyn’s friends appeared to view the pair’s relationship differently and informed the police that they may have been romantically involved.
For days after Caitlyn’s disappearance, the pair left a trail on CCTV. Then, they seemed to vanish. As police struggled to track them down, Scarlet pleaded for her daughter to return. “We love her very much,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter what has happened or where she is. All we’re concerned with is her safety.”
Meanwhile, police discovered some disturbing evidence on Caitlyn’s phone. Apparently, she had exchanged sexual messages with Rian, before wiping her phone and leaving it behind. Growing more concerned for the teen’s safety, they focused their attention on tracking down Rian’s vehicle – a 2001 Mercury Sable that hadn’t been spotted in days.
Finally, on December 1 there was a break in the case. That afternoon, police officer Todd Grant spotted a vehicle matching the description of Rian’s in Salina, New York. After making a U-turn, he managed to track the sedan and eventually confronted the driver in a parking lot.
It was Rian – and Caitlyn was with him, apparently unharmed. Rian was arrested, and the details of his plan began to emerge. Apparently, he had taken a job in Salina, hoping to raise enough funds for fake papers. With them, he wanted to take Caitlyn across the border into Canada.
But while Rian seemed to believe that the pair were on their way to start a new life together, Caitlyn’s friends painted a different picture. “She didn’t know how to get out of it,” one was reported to have told police. “And if she did he would mess up her life.”
The following day, Caitlyn was finally reunited with her parents, who traveled to New York to greet her. And when her aunt shared pictures online of the emotional trio, it seemed that Caitlyn was glad to be back in their embrace. Nonetheless, the process of working out what had happened was just beginning.
While Ward and Scarlet are just happy to have their daughter back, police have begun to speculate that she was coerced into running away with Rian. “She’s a 17-year-old high school student who I feel was influenced by someone who was in control, who was in a supervisory role, and that shouldn’t be,” Sergeant Smith told the Mail Online.
Meanwhile, Rian is facing a charge of interference with child custody. Additionally, police are considering charging him with kidnapping. And if a relationship between the two is proven, things could become even worse for him, as Caitlyn is below the age of consent in Florida. Rian is currently awaiting extradition to Florida, where he will stand trial.