Parents reunite with Caitlyn; have a lot of questions

Scarlet and Ward Frisina held their 17-year-old daughter for the first time in a week Saturday.

The Frisina family arrived in Syracuse, New York, just before noon to seek answers from Caitlyn Morgan Frisina about her mysterious disappearance from Fort White the previous weekend. 

“There’s just so many questions and emotions,” Scarlet Frisina said. 

Authorities in New York took Caitlyn into custody Friday after a state police officer spotted the missing teen and her traveling companion, Rian Rodriguez, 27, near Syracuse, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. 

Caitlyn’s family noticed her disappearance Sunday morning, sparking a search that gained national attention. 

“It has been a huge roller coaster for us over these past five days,” Scarlet Frisina said. “We are emotionally drained, but we are absolutely elated to have her safe. There’s no way to express how much we appreciate everybody’s thoughts and prayers during this time for us.”

Scarlet Frisina said Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter called her with an unconfirmed report Friday night that Caitlyn and Rodriguez were found safe in New York. 

Hunter promised the mother he’d contact her again once he could verify the information, she said.

Eight minutes passed before he called back to say the good news had been confirmed, Frisina said. 

“I did a whole lot of praying in those few minutes,” she said. 

New York State Police investigator Todd Grant had information that the missing pair were possibly in the area of Central New York, the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper reported.

Grant, who works with the NYSP’s major crimes unit, was in the Town of Salina, near Syracuse, when he spotted a 2001 red Mercury Sable with a Florida tag that fit the description of Rodriguez’s car, the newspaper reported.

The investigator was driving an unmarked car. He matched the plate number on the Sable and followed the vehicle a short distance to a shopping plaza near an intersection. 

He turned on his lights and pulled over the vehicle. Grant and another investigator riding with him approached the car, which reports indicate Rodriguez was driving, from both sides with their sidearms drawn.

They questioned and arrested Rodriguez without incident, securing him in handcuffs and placing him face down in the parking lot, according to the Post-Standard report. Caitlyn Frisina was not injured and was never placed in handcuffs during the traffic stop. She was taken into protective custody without incident, State Police spokesman Jack Keller told the Post-Standard.

Caitlyn was not detained in jail, but was held at a secure facility Friday night and Saturday when her parents arrived to reunite with her, Hunter said.

Caitlyn plays on the girls soccer team at Fort White High School. Rodriguez was head coach of the boys soccer team before the school board fired him Tuesday for going AWOL. Rodriguez previously worked as an assistant coach under Caitlyn’s father, Ward Frisina.

The teen girl’s disappearance gained national media attention. News outlets in at least 35 states covered the story, said Columbia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Murray Smith. 

“I don’t know anybody with a heart that wouldn’t grieve for this type of situation,” Smith said hours before the teen was located. 

Rodriguez faces a charge of interfering with the custody of a minor, according to authorities. 

Evidence suggests Caitlyn left with Rodriguez willingly, CCSO reported during the search. 

Investigators believe she climbed through her bedroom window. A single set of footprints indicated she walked to a nearby road, according to the sheriff’s office. 

The teen took a few items with her, but wiped all the data from her phone and left it behind.

Caitlyn sent a text message to one of her friends hinting at a relationship between herself and Rodriguez, according to CCSO.

The friend forwarded a copy of the message to Caitlyn’s parents, who provided it to deputies. 

Surveillance cameras recorded footage of Caitlyn and Rodriguez Sunday morning at an ATM in St. Marys, Georgia, and a gas station in Saint George, Georgia. They were recorded again later that night at a pawn shop in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

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