LAKE CITY, Fla. – A 17-year-old high school soccer player believed to have run off with a 27-year-old coach was found safe in Syracuse, New York, Columbia County deputies said Friday.
Caitlyn Frisina and Rian Rodriguez were the center of a nationwide search that ended after 4 p.m. Friday when they were pulled over by a New York State Police officer who spotted the red Mercury Sable the pair were believed to be traveling in, authorities said.
Rodriguez was arrested on a charge of interference in child custody, and Caitlyn was detained, deputies said. He has a hearing Monday to determine if he’ll be extradited.
Jessie Mykietyn told News4Jax he was shocked that a story as large as Caitlyn’s would end in his neighborhood.
"I was standing here working with my customer and just glanced over and saw that there were several police cars surrounding a vehicle," Mykietyn said. “It's mind-boggling,” Mykietyn said. “I mean, you know you hear about this big story and you never think something like that will actually come into your own neighborhood and backyard."
Caitlyn's mother, Scarlet Frisina, told News4Jax that she is "just thrilled" to know her daughter is OK. She said her family is packing in case they need to go to New York to pick Caitlyn up.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement missing child alert issued Tuesday for Caitlyn was canceled after she was found.
Until Friday, the last sighting of Caitlyn and Rodriguez was at a pawnshop in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but authorities said they believed the two had continued to head north. Caitlyn has family in New York state, deputies said.
“I don’t really remember what day it was that we actually got to see those surveillance images, but my first reaction was she appeared to be perfectly fine, and that was a big -- 'OK, she’s OK,'” Frisina said Friday before her daughter was found.
Columbia County deputies thanked the New York State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service for their help, saying the Marshals were "instrumental in locating the pair" and tracking down leads that led to them being found.
Sheriff Mark Hunter said Wednesday that authorities didn't believe Caitlyn was endangered, but she was with a man who is 10 years older than her and she is still legally a juvenile.
The pair were spotted in Georgia and South Carolina before they were seen in Fayetteville.
The road trip cost Rodriguez his job.
The former Fort White High School head boys soccer coach was fired Wednesday by the Columbia County School Board for “failure to report to work.”
According to the missing person report, a friend told investigators that Caitlyn sent her a text message, indicating there may be a relationship between the 17-year-old and Rodriguez.
Authorities believe Caitlyn sneaked out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night.
Her mother discovered she was gone Sunday morning. After realizing her car and cellphone were still at the home, they called family and friends and then reported her missing to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies said the bedroom window was open, the window screen was off and footprints leading away from Caitlyn's home indicated she was alone when she left.
Deputies said Caitlyn wiped her cellphone by returning it to factory settings before leaving sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Frisina said Friday before her daughter was found that Rodriguez was the only person who didn't answer when she and her husband were calling around trying to find Caitlyn Sunday morning.
She said that until that moment they never considered that Rodriguez and Caitlyn might have developed an inappropriate relationship. The two knew each other from their club and high school soccer teams, and the mother described Rodriguez as a trusted, longtime family friend.
“Because he is younger, there’s always that camaraderie and the banter back and forth and different things, but nothing that we felt like was out of ordinary or odd for a coach-and-player relationship. It all seemed very normal to us,” she said. “We felt like we knew who he was.”
Frisina said nothing from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend seemed off or unusual for her family.
“Everything seemed wonderful -- (spending) family time together -- and it turned into the most horrible dream,” she said. “I kept thinking, 'When am I going to wake up and find out it’s all not true?'”
Frisina said her daughter has potential to play soccer in college, and her family doesn't understand what would make her walk away from that.
"It makes us wonder and think that there was something that he had on her or had over her or had convinced her of, obviously, (he) had lied to her to cause her to take such a drastic measure and step," she said.
The circumstances surrounding the pair's trip north are still unclear.