Hope turns to grief: Searchers find body believed to be St. Johns County girl

Deputies arrest 14-year-old Aiden Fucci in death of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey

The search for a 13-year-old girl last seen early Sunday morning in her Durbin Crossing neighborhood ended 16 hours later when searchers found a body believed to be the missing teenager.

ST. JOHNS, Fla. – The search for a missing 13-year-old girl last seen early Sunday in her Durbin Crossing neighborhood ended 16 hours later when searchers announced they’d recovered a body believed to be that of the missing teen.

Tristyn Bailey became the subject of a massive search that brought together authorities and volunteers as neighbors fanned out Sunday afternoon in search of any sign of the 13-year-old girl. By Sunday evening, the search for Bailey took a grim turn when St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick announced that investigators believed her body had been found.

Though Hardwick released minimal details Sunday night, the sheriff disclosed Monday morning that investigators had taken a teen — 14-year-old Aiden Fucci — into custody on second-degree murder charge in connection with the case. The sheriff did not discuss a cause of death, saying the investigation into Bailey’s death was still in the early stages.

UPDATE: Teenage boy arrested in classmate’s death | TIMELINE: Tristyn’s disappearance, investigation

“We have the suspect in custody and we cannot bring Tristyn back,” the sheriff said as he warned people not to speculate about the case.

Hardwick said the decision to charge Fucci with second-degree murder was made after discussions with the State Attorney’s Office. While he said there were no outstanding suspects, he did not rule out the possibility of additional charges for Fucci, who’s in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“Justice is being served, but we know the community is angry,” Hardwick said. “This is a tight-knit community in St. Johns County. People are taking this personal.”

While Hardwick praised the community for stepping up to help with the search for Bailey, including a neighbor who discovered the teen’s body during the course of his evening walk, he asked for patience while the case plays out. He said he could not divulge details related to the case as their disclosure could compromise the integrity of what is still a preliminary investigation.

The sheriff asked for anyone who has a tip or lead in the case to come forward as investigators have not yet exhausted their leads.

Bailey was first reported missing about 10 a.m. Sunday when her family called 911, saying they’d last seen her about midnight. The Sheriff’s Office said she’d been seen early Sunday at the North Amenity Center in Durbin Crossing. As the day wore on, the search expanded with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issuing a Missing Child Alert and volunteers rallying to help find the teen.

Tristyn’s father posted a message on Facebook, saying: “For everyone that is trying to help find our daughter we cannot thank you enough.”

Several hours later, however, the search came to a tragic end. A deputy told a News4Jax reporter about 7 p.m. that the search effort had been called off, but could not elaborate. Shortly before 8 p.m., Sheriff Hardwick called a news conference to confirm that a body believed to be that of Bailey had been found, and that there was no ongoing threat to the community.

“This was not the outcome the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office wanted, or this community (wanted),” Hardwick said. “This is a grieving community and we’re going to respect our grieving community.

Grief counselors were made available Monday to students at Patriot Oaks Academy, the school Bailey and Fucci attended. Many of the 13-year-old’s classmates show up to school wearing white as a way of honoring Bailey’s memory. If your student is having a difficult time processing what’s happening, the school has sent out resources to help.

Deputies said the investigation is still ongoing. Anyone who saw Tristyn between midnight and early Sunday evening is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 904-824-8304 or dial 911. Tips can also be emailed to crimetips@sjso.org.

Community mourns Tristyn Bailey

The teen’s school, Patriot Oaks Academy, sent a message to its families, saying the seventh-grader was missing and asking people to contact law enforcement with any information. “I am asking for your prayers on behalf of her family,” the message read.

Durbin Creek Elementary sent a statement Sunday night reading, ”We are devastated for the family of Tristyn Bailey. We are asking all our Explorers to wear white tomorrow in observance #onecommunity.”

Tristyn was on a cheer squad at the school. Her coach described her as a loving young lady and a natural leader.

“She is just the most cheerful, most spirited friendliest person,” Courtney Sparks said. “(She) is down to basically do whatever really to like help unite the team. Whatever it takes for like the team to get to the next level, she’s the person to like help push the team forward.”

A friend who said she spoke to her Saturday night on SnapChat described her as “a really nice, sweet girl.”

Tamalyn Jones, who lives in another neighborhood nearby, also came out to help search.

“I grabbed my son and said we would want the same thing done for my daughter his sisters,” Jones said. “So we came on over and we couldn’t believe when we saw the outpouring of everybody here.”

News4Jax is told there will be a candlelight vigil for Tristyn at 8:30 p.m. Monday in the Durbin Amenity Center.

About the Authors:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.