When 51-year-old high school teacher Tad Cummins fled across the country for five weeks earlier this year with his 15-year-old student Elizabeth Thomas, he had elaborate plans in mind that helped them stay hidden despite a massive nationwide search. It wasn’t until Cummins’ plans all fell flat that he and Thomas were found penniless in a borrowed cabin in rural California after fleeing from Tennessee.
But in a case that bears some similarities, one big difference in the flight of 27-year-old high school coach Rian Rodriguez with 17-year-old Caitlyn Frisina is that he appears to have had little planning or preparation made ahead of time before he decided to allegedly steal a minor away from the protection of her parents.
According to reports, Frisina slipped out of her bedroom window the night of Nov. 26, seemingly of own will, and began her cross-country journey with Rodriguez from northern Florida to Syracuse, New York. Their ultimate destination: Canada.
They appeared to have little in the way of money or supplies, though. Rodriguez had Frisina pull $200 out of her bank account via an ATM in Georgia, according to People. Other stops along the way for supplies the Carolinas got their movement north caught on surveillance cameras.
After that, they appeared to get a little more careful, according to the Syracuse Post Standard. They didn’t use cell phones or credit cards and often traveled at night. Rodriguez used library computers and other public computers to search for jobs in Syracuse and keep tabs on the nationwide search.
The next step of his evolving plan was to land a job in Syracuse — a city of 150,000 that he felt was large enough for them to disappear in — in order to earn enough money to buy them fake passports for entrance into Canada. Incredibly, he was hired at a marketing company while using his own identity.
But that’s when an eagle-eyed New York State Police investigator made his flight from justice come crashing down in a matter of seconds. While authorities had just gone through a few days with no new leads on the whereabouts of the Rodriguez and Frisina, investigator Todd Grant was keeping a sharp eye out to see if they’d made it as far north as his state. New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada were the top three destinations authorities figured the pair was running to because of their family ties in those locations.
Amazingly, Rodriguez left Frisina alone in his car in plain sight while he attended a two-hour employee orientation at Prime Time Marketing in Syracuse this past Friday. During his job interview, Rodriguez had also asked if his “little cousin” could get a job at the company, too.
Grant spotted a red Mercury Sable that appeared to fit the description of Rodriguez’ car and quickly made a U-turn so he could get into the parking lot. The Florida license plates were a match.
Rodriguez also happened to be leaving his orientation at that moment and walking back to his car. That’s when Grant drew his firearm and ordered the former soccer coach to get on the ground. He had also used his car to block in Rodriguez’ Mercury in order to avoid a dangerous car chase.
With the help of other law enforcement officers who soon arrived, Grant took Rodriguez into custody without further incident. He learned details of Rodriguez’ flight while interviewing him.
Grant, who is now being hailed as a hero, specializes in child exploitation cases and believes, along with the sheriff from Frisina’s home county, that the 17-year-old girl is a victim and was manipulated by 27-year-old Rodriguez, who had been a friend of the family.
Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter told the press the Frisina “was influenced by someone who was in control, was in a supervisory role. That shouldn't be. She’s got a lot of growing up to do even though she’s a very strong young lady.”
A court affidavit claims Frisina told a high school friend that “she didn’t know how to get out [of her relationship with Rodriguez] and, if she did, he would mess up her life,” and another friend added that Frisina had "hooked up with Rian and he worked his way into her life."
Frisina’s family has welcomed her back with open arms. She has now returned to Florida. Please pray for restoration for her family and healing for this teenager as she deals with the repercussions of her choices. In other news, evangelist Franklin Graham is calling on Christians to pray today for a landmark case being debated in the Supreme Court.