Teen slaying victim Tristyn Bailey died from a stabbing at the hands of a 14-year-old suspect who posted a selfie from the back of a police vehicle after she went missing, authorities in North Florida said.
Bailey, 13, a cheerleader at Patriot Oaks Academy in St. Johns, was found dead in a wooded area of the Jacksonville suburb at about 6 p.m. Sunday, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
A girl resembling Bailey was captured on surveillance video early Sunday at about 1:15 a.m. walking in a residential neighborhood in St. Johns. Also on camera, police said, was a subject resembling the suspect in the case.
The suspect, who NBC News is not identifying because he is a minor, is charged with second-degree murder. Jacksonville attorney Andy Snober, who is representing the teen suspect, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick alleges the suspect killed Bailey with intent.
“I worked homicide for almost 12 years. This is nothing even nearly remote to being an accident,” Hardwick told NBC affiliate WTLV in Jacksonville on Tuesday. “This is a heinous crime. … It’s a stabbing death of a 13-year-old girl by a 14-year-old boy. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do."
Hardwick also told the news station the suspect is not cooperating with police and investigators may have found the weapon used in the homicide. “We’re hoping we’ve collected the murder weapon,” Hardwick said, but investigators are still waiting for forensic tests to be completed.
The sheriff's office confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday that the suspect posted a selfie to social media on Sunday while flashing a peace sign from the back of a police vehicle. A representative with the office said the suspect took the selfie while Bailey was still missing and he was only considered a witness.
"Hey guys has inybody seen Tristyn lately" is written over the selfie.
While announcing the teen’s arrest Monday, Hardwick said the suspect and Bailey attended school together but declined to say whether they were classmates.
A statement Tuesday from the sheriff’s office said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Predrag Bulic had determined Bailey died in a homicide from “sharp force trauma by stabbing.”
A man reached by phone Wednesday afternoon who identified himself as Bailey's father declined to comment.
The suspect appeared earlier this week at a preliminary detention hearing via Zoom at the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center. His parents appeared during the hearing. His father showed little emotion, but the suspect’s mother was teary-eyed while her son was read his rights. A judge ordered he remained held for 21 days until further order by the court.
A sheriff’s office report said the department was first alerted Bailey was missing at about 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Hours earlier, video caught her and the suspect near the Durbin North Amenity Center. A home surveillance camera then captured “two subjects walking east on Saddlestone Drive at approximately 0145 hours,” the report said.
Additional footage from Saddlestone Drive from about 3:30 a.m. captured only one subject “walking west … carrying a pair of white shoes with a black 'Nike' logo,” the report said.
Bailey is believed to be seen on video earlier wearing black pants and a black shirt, investigators said. Her body was discovered on the south end of a retention pond, east of Saddlestone Drive, the report said.
“The victim appeared to have significant injury to her head and other trauma and was wearing black pants with a black shirt,” the arrest report stated.
The suspect lived only “.3 miles” from where Bailey’s body was found, investigators said. While executing a search warrant at his home, they said, “several items of evidentiary value were located within the defendant’s bedroom which were consistent with clothing observed in the aforementioned video surveillance."
"Furthermore, some of these items yielded a presumptive positive test result for the presence of blood,” the report said. The defendant’s statements, authorities said, also contributed to probable cause leading to his arrest.
Bryan L. Shorstein, spokesman for the Florida state attorney, said Wednesday the office will determine if the suspect in Bailey’s death will be tried as an adult.
He said the police investigation is ongoing, evidence is still being reviewed and personnel within the office plan to meet with Bailey's family next week.
“We plan to make that determination in the near future,” he said, referring to whether her alleged killer will be tried as an adult. “We don’t want to make that decision callously. We understand the magnitude of that decision.”