Tristyn Bailey: The murder that sent shockwaves through St. Johns County

Aiden Fucci admits to killing 13-year-old schoolmate, pleads guilty to first-degree murder

Tristyn Bailey's murder rocked the quiet St. Johns County community she called home.

Editor’s note: This article contains details that some might find graphic in nature. Discretion is advised.

It was a quiet Sunday morning in the Durbin Crossing neighborhood of St. Johns County.

The Bailey family was preparing a special Mother’s Day breakfast for mom, Stacy.

“Sophia came down and got things ready as she normally would,” Forrest, the patriarch of “The Bailey 7,” recalled last year during a public memorial. “Shortly after that, our day was shattered.”

They realized the youngest of the family’s five children, 13-year-old Tristyn, wasn’t in the house.

Tristyn Bailey

By 10 a.m. that day — May 9, 2021 — they called the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office to report her missing.

Less than an hour later, the Sheriff’s Office posted a message to its Facebook page asking the community for help to find the missing teen.

“So many of you abandoned your Mother’s Day plans,” Forrest said at the memorial, thanking the neighbors who helped search for his daughter that haunting day.

The news spread like wildfire that afternoon among the teens and families in the neighborhood. Tristyn was someone they knew — a cheerleader at Patriot Oaks Academy, the local K-8 school.

Tristyn Bailey was a cheerleader.

And she was missing.

One resident told News4JAX they remember everyone trying to do anything they could to help with the search — even if it was just sharing information and tips on the Durbin Crossing Facebook page.

“Everyone’s heart was in the right place, wanting to figure it out,” she said. “It was the only thing anyone was talking about.”

RELATED: Coverage of Tristyn Bailey

That left little space for the joys of Mother’s Day as worries plagued the peace of the typically serene neighborhood.

Deputies said they heard from several residents about tunnels and paths in the area where children and teens often got together. They searched those areas but didn’t find the missing girl.

They also went house to house asking anyone with video surveillance if they had spotted anything. It’s a neighborhood where more houses than not have some type of surveillance or doorbell cameras, residents told News4JAX.

At 4:49 p.m., the Florida Department of Law Enforcement activated a Missing Child Alert for Tristyn, asking anyone with information about her to contact law enforcement.

The alert didn’t last long.

At 6:06 p.m., a resident walking in the neighborhood found Tristyn’s body by a retention pond east of the Saddlestone Drive cul-de-sac.

Tristyn Bailey's body was found next to this retention pond east of Saddlestone Drive. (WJXT)

Within two hours, an emotional Sheriff Robert Hardwick made the discovery official with an announcement to the public.

And just like that, a worrisome search for a missing teen became a shocking murder case that rocked a family and a community.

Whispers turned to roars online as rumors swirled around what had happened to Tristyn and who was responsible. At first, unsubstantiated social media posts led neighbors to believe that multiple teens had been involved.

But investigators squashed that theory quickly and said they had just one suspect — Aiden Fucci — a teenaged schoolmate of Tristyn’s arrested in the early morning hours of May 10, 2021, the day after she was killed.

Fucci’s home in Durbin Crossing is 0.3 miles from where Tristyn’s body was found.

Final night

A friend of Tristyn’s later told investigators he feels responsible because he invited her out to his house that night.

Tristyn’s family told investigators that she was last seen at home around midnight.

Interactive timeline map of Tristyn’s final night:

It’s unclear when she left her house, but the friend said Tristyn and Fucci, who was 14 at the time, were at the friend’s house together, and Fucci told investigators he and Tristyn left together just after 1 a.m., walking north along North Durbin Parkway.

That’s backed up by surveillance video from the Durbin Crossing North Amenity Center, which captured them walking north together at 1:14 a.m. on May 9.

At 1:45 a.m., a home surveillance camera on Saddlestone Drive captured the two teens — who were identified later by investigators through their clothing — walking east on the sidewalk. Fucci was wearing a light-colored hooded sweatshirt with the hood over his head, white Nike sneakers and jeans. Tristyn, who was “significantly shorter,” was wearing a black shirt, black pants and black shoes.

At 3:27 a.m., the same surveillance camera showed Fucci heading back in the other direction at a quick pace, carrying the white Nike sneakers he’d been wearing earlier.

Tristyn wasn’t with him.

According to prosecutors, in the less than two hours between when Tristyn was last seen alive at 1:45 a.m. and when Fucci was spotted going into his home at 3:30 a.m., Fucci viciously attacked Tristyn with a knife and then tossed the weapon into the retention pond near her body.

An autopsy found the girl had been stabbed more than 100 times, many of them defensive wounds, and the tip of the knife broke off in one of her wounds.

“This is a cold-blooded murder of a 13-year-old young girl who did not deserve to die,” Hardwick said when Tristyn’s cause of death was first announced.

According to the FDLE, the tip of the knife found in Tristyn’s wound later matched to a “Buck” knife that dive team investigators found in the retention pond near her body. A knife that had Tristyn’s blood on it and that investigators said belonged to Fucci.

WATCH: FDLE confirms blade pulled from retention pond matches piece found in Tristyn’s wound:

A blade tip found in 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey’s body originated from a knife that was discovered in a St. Johns County retention pond, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released Tuesday.

Investigation unfolds

At the same time that neighbors and deputies were searching for the missing girl on Mother’s Day, investigators were already digging into what might have happened to the 13-year-old.

Fucci was identified early on as someone who might have been with Tristyn the evening of May 8, so he volunteered to go with deputies to show where he was last with her.

Aiden Fucci is charged with the murder of his 13-year-old schoolmate Tristyn Bailey. They both lived in the Durbin Crossing neighborhood. (WJXT)

But his story kept changing, deputies said.

Just before 9 p.m. Sunday night — about an hour after Sheriff Hardwick had made the announcement about Tristyn’s body being found — Fucci and his parents were sitting in an interview room at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

RELATED: Coverage of Aiden Fucci

According to investigative reports, when his parents told him that Tristyn was dead and he was the last person seen with her, he replied, “How is that my problem?”

He soon learned the answer to that question when deputies charged him with Tristyn’s murder after a search of his home uncovered the white Nike sneakers he was seen carrying in the video, along with a gray hooded sweatshirt, a T-shirt and a pair of wet jeans. All the items tested positive for blood.

UNCUT: Press play below to watch Sheriff Hardwick announce Fucci’s arrest:

Investigators later said the jeans were wet because Fucci’s mother, Crystal Lane Smith, had tampered with evidence.

They said that during the afternoon Sunday — while Tristyn’s distraught family and neighbors were helping search for the missing teen — Smith was washing blood out of her son’s jeans in the bathroom sink.

When the jeans and sink were tested later, both came back positive for blood, investigators said.

Smith has been charged with tampering with evidence, which is a third-degree felony, and is out on bond awaiting trial.

Booking photo of Crystal Smith (St. Johns County Sheriff's Office)

Investigators later confirmed that all the blood stains on Fucci’s belongings tested positive for Tristyn’s DNA and that Fucci’s DNA was found on Tristyn’s body.

During the search of Fucci’s room, investigators also found a notebook that held violent drawings, including at least one gory drawing of a naked woman.

“He indicated to several witnesses that he was going to kill someone by taking them in the woods and stabbing them, which are certainly the facts of this case,” State Attorney R.J. Larizza said of Fucci after revealing the shocking details of the attack. “The bottom line is that premeditation could be inferred, certainly from just the sheer number of stab wounds that Tristyn Bailey had to suffer. To say that it was horrific could arguably be made as an understatement.”

Larizza took the case to a grand jury, and Fucci was indicted May 27, 2021, on a first-degree murder charge.

He was set to be tried as an adult with jury selection slated to begin Monday morning. But in an unexpected move in the high-profile case, Fucci pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday instead.

RELATED: How the murder case against Aiden Fucci has played out in court so far

Aiden Fucci enters a St. Johns County courtroom on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

When sentenced, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. As a juvenile when the offense occurred, he is not eligible for the death penalty.

Fucci has been held at the Duval County jail because the St. Johns County jail does not have a juvenile holding area. According to reports from the jail, Fucci has been involved in multiple disturbances and has threatened to kill inmates, corrections officers and their families.

Community fallout

With Fucci’s guilty plea making headlines, the once quaint Durbin Crossing neighborhood is back in the spotlight for reasons it would rather forget.

Tristyn Bailey (Provided by St. Johns County Sheriff's Office/WJXT)

In the days following Tristyn’s murder, local residents were forced to have uncomfortable conversations with their children, many of whom attended school not only with Tristyn but with her now-confessed killer.

How do you explain to an elementary-aged child how such a thing could happen?

RELATED: Detective: Killing of Tristyn Bailey ‘probably one of the most tragic and difficult cases that we have faced’ | Confused-looking Aiden Fucci: ‘Demons are going to take my soul away’

Parents were also left to face hard questions themselves as they grieved not only the loss of a 13-year-old girl but the shattered peace of their once idyllic neighborhood.

One resident called the entire ordeal a wake-up call, saying “I can’t believe it happened here, but at the same time, of course it happened here. It can happen anywhere.”

Investigating Tristyn Bailey's death

“I hope that parents will learn something from this vicious and brutal murder, and that is that you need to know what your kids are doing and what they are saying,” State Attorney Larizza said. “Because while we might not be able to stop these brutal and vicious murders from happening, we ought to at least try.”

As they dealt with the aftermath, the community rallied around “The Bailey 7,” as her family dubs themselves, with ribbons around the neighborhood, charity walks and multiple memorial services with everyone wearing aqua — Tristyn’s favorite color.

Photo taken in Durbin Crossing community on Jan. 18, 2022. (

“We have seen how Tristyn’s spirit, memory and kindness has grown around the world, from countless aqua bows tied up in her memory to painted rocks carried and hidden around the world to share her legacy,” her loved ones wrote.

RELATED: 1 year later: Tristyn Bailey’s family reflects on her memory, impact

The Bailey family said many memorial projects are in the works, including a scholarship program, working with a youth mental health center, and a community gym that supports self-defense.

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.