After nearly a week apart, the family of missing Columbia County teen, Caitlyn Frisina, spoke publicly for the first time after being reunited in New York over the weekend.
“We are looking forward to a very merry Christmas,” Frisina’s mother, Scarlet Frisina, told reporters at a news conference Monday. “We are already taking steps toward rebuilding our lives after such an emotional week.”
The 17-year-old, who attends Fort White High School in Lake City, Florida, first went missing Nov. 25 with her high school’s soccer coach, 27-year-old Rian Rodriguez.
A missing person’s report said she climbed through a window and left her cell phone behind before disappearing with Rodriguez. Frisina’s parents told police they found the cell phone with all the data erased.
The nearly week-long, nationwide search tracked the pair traveling in Georgia, where Frisina withdrew $200 from an ATM, and in South and North Carolina where surveillance footage spotted them.
On Friday, a New York state police officer recognized the red Mercury Sable as the car that authorities believed Frisina and Rodriguez were traveling in. Rodriguez was detained and later charged for interfering with a child’s custody, a third-degree felony that, if convicted, carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.
Frisina was reunited with her family in Syracuse, New York, on Saturday – more than 1,000 miles away from her Lake City home.
“We understand, and we realize that this was a very big deal and that there’s a very long road ahead of us,” Frisina’s mother said. “It will be through many prayers, conversations and counseling that we are able to move forward and by lots of grace and love that we will heal.”
Columbia County Sheriff, Mark Hunter, said it will be up to the state attorney’s office to determine whether further charges will be brought against Rodriguez.
“She’s a 17-year-old high school student who I feel was influenced by someone who was in control, was in a supervisory role,” Hunter said. “She’s got a lot of growing up to do, even though she’s a very strong young lady.”
Murray Smith, a spokesman for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters that it’s still unknown what type of relationship Frisina and Rodriguez might have had prior to their disappearance.
“Early in August, there was a ‘suspicion’ that there may be something inappropriate,” Smith said. “The school let the parents know. We also looked into it and there was nothing seen to be inappropriate.”
Hunter would not give a definitive time frame as to when Rodriguez will be extradited to Florida to face his charges, but said Rodriguez waived his extradition right, which means the process will be quicker.