Hours after murder, Tristyn Bailey’s killer tried to send detectives in wrong direction

Aiden Fucci to be sentenced later this month in brutal stabbing of 13-year-old schoolmate

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

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

Hours after he brutally stabbed his 13-year-old schoolmate and left her lifeless body lying near a retention pond less than half a mile from his home, Aiden Fucci was interviewed by a St. Johns County detective.

At the time, all investigators knew was that Tristyn Bailey was missing.

When her family woke up on Mother’s Day morning in 2021, Tristyn wasn’t at home. They alerted authorities and the news spread like wildfire through the Durbin Crossing neighborhood.

RELATED: Tristyn Bailey: The murder that sent shockwaves through St. Johns County | Tristyn Bailey’s family says guilty plea brings ‘significant relief,’ is milestone in ‘journey of justice’ | St. Johns County sheriff, community react to Aiden Fucci pleading guilty to murder in Tristyn Bailey’s death | What’s next for Aiden Fucci?

A cheerleader at the local K-8 Patriot Oaks Academy was missing.

As they searched, detectives spoke with those who knew Tristyn about where she might be.

That included a chat with Fucci, who was 14 at the time.

The State Attorney’s Office, which is preparing for a sentencing hearing later this month after Fucci pleaded guilty to killing Tristyn, released an audio recording of that initial interview with Fucci -- along with two other interviews: One with Tristyn’s sister as the search was still ongoing and one with the Durbin Crossing resident who discovered the teenager’s body.

First interview with Fucci

Not knowing she was addressing Tristyn’s killer, Detective Kim Peluso told Fucci, “I’m not trying to get you in trouble or anything like that. Obviously, I’m more concerned right now about (Tristyn’s) safety and what she’s doing and where she could be hanging out.”

Fucci said he hasn’t heard from Tristyn and admitted to Peluso that he’d been with Tristyn the night before at another friend’s house and had left with her early in the morning. He told the detective that while he and Tristyn were walking home, something happened that upset him and he pushed Tristyn “real hard” and then walked away in anger.

The next two minutes of the recorded interview are redacted.

When the audio resumes, Peluso asks: “Anything else I need to know that you think will really help me out?”

Fucci offered the name of Tristyn’s best friend, and then when Peluso asked for more information about a path in the woods that Fucci told them to check, he gave her details about the terrain, saying: “This is a place to like chill out and do acid or just smoke weed.”

That path isn’t where Tristyn was found.

Interactive timeline map of Tristyn’s final night:

Finding Tristyn

As the neighborhood buzzed with news of the missing teen, one resident, urged on by his wife, finished a 3-mile mile run and then decided to walk through some nearby woods and around a pond at the end of a cul-de-sac to see if he could find her.

He did.

The jogger told investigators he spotted Tristyn’s lifeless body about 30 feet beyond a fence in the woods near a retention pond.

A St. Johns County detective interviewed the jogger shortly after his disturbing discovery.

After he retraced his route on a map on the detective’s phone, the jogger pinpointed the location of the body and the detective dropped a pin on the map.

The man told the detective he did not take any photos of Tristyn but called authorities as soon as he spotted her.

Detective: When you saw her what was she wearing, what did she look like, did you touch her?

Jogger: I did not. Like I said, she’s probably 25 or 30 feet beyond the fence and I only went a couple feet past the fence and as soon as I saw her I stopped and called 911.

He described what he’d seen, saying she had on black Nike shorts and a black shirt.

Where Tristyn was found was exactly 0.3 miles from Fucci’s Durbin Crossing home, and a knife that had Tristyn’s blood on it and that investigators said belonged to Fucci was found in the nearby retention pond.

An autopsy found the teen had been stabbed more than 100 times, many of them defensive wounds.

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.

Before she disappeared

Until Tristyn’s body was found, investigators had been treating it like a missing persons case.

Just 90 minutes before the case changed to a murder investigation, Detective Peluso interviewed Tristyn’s sister, who said the last time she’d seen her youngest sister was sometime after 12:15 a.m. Sunday when she was on Facetime with a boy in the garage.

Detective: Did you hear what they were talking about?

Sister: No. She pretty much hung up after I saw.

Detective: How was her behavior? Was she acting a little weird when you walked in or what?

Sister: She was acting like pretty normally, I think. Earlier, when I first started watching my movie, though, she did ask me when I was going to bed.

The sister said when she went out to the garage again later, Tristyn wasn’t there, but she assumed she had gone back upstairs. She told the detective she’d never known of her sister sneaking out before and that she wasn’t dating anyone.

Detective: Have you tried calling her or texting her, anything like that? Had any luck?

Sister: Yeah, I’ve called her a few times, but it just goes straight to voicemail.

During his guilty plea last month, Fucci, now 16, apologized in court.

“I’m sorry for the Bailey family and my family,” Fucci said.

Tristyn’s family said the guilty plea -- which came the same day jury selection was set to begin for Fucci’s trial -- was both a surprise and a relief.

“With the backing of our community, neighborhood, counselors, friends, and family, we have been able to endure the nearly two years since Tristyn was taken from us while managing to share her cheer: “We got this!’” the family wrote. “Make no mistake, the most important things to our family at this time are justice and Tristyn’s legacy.”

Tristyn Bailey

What’s next?

Judge R. Lee Smiths said the sentencing hearing for Fucci will begin March 21 and could last at least two days. Smith said he plans to hand down the sentence on March 24.

Both sides will call witnesses during the hearing. At least 40 are expected.

The prosecution’s list of witnesses for sentencing confirms that Bailey’s loved ones will be called to make victim impact statements.

RELATED: Aiden Fucci’s mental health likely to be a focus during sentencing hearing, attorney says

The list also names six investigators with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and at least two minors whose names appear only as initials on the document.

It’s a similar story on the defense side.

Aiden Fucci to be sentenced in two weeks for murder of Tristyn Bailey, judge says

Fucci is facing the possibility of life in prison with a minimum sentence of 40 years on the first-degree murder charge.

Once Fucci is sentenced, the law requires that since he was a juvenile when this happened, the court must review his case after 25 years.

While a motive for killing the 13-year-old cheerleader has never been made clear, friends of Fucci told detectives he owned several knives, and that he’d thought about killing someone.

His girlfriend, whom News4JAX is not naming due to her age, told a detective Fucci had asked her what she would do if he murdered someone.

“I don’t know what my answer really was. but he would say that if he was going to murder someone, it was going to be planned,” she recalled. “He said that he would just walk at night or something and find a random person walking too and just drag them in the woods and stab them.”

About the Authors:

Khalil Maycock joined the News4JAX team in November 2022 after reporting in Des Moines, IA.

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.