UPDATE: Ashley Lyon was found Thursday morning in Louisiana in critical condition with stab wounds. Steven Myers was taken into custody following a police pursuit. Details on the arrest.
TAMPA — Ashley Lyon is gone and her family doesn't know where she is. They have an idea, though — they think the 16-year-old Valrico girl might be with a 41-year-old registered sex offender who served time in a Georgia prison.
The family is offering a $5,000 reward for information that helps investigators find Ashley Lyon, who was last seen in the area on Wednesday.
“We are trying to keep our heads up high,” said Sean Lyon, Ashley's 19-year-old brother. “We are trying to stay hopeful. It's frustrating.”
The family spent Father's Day passing out fliers throughout the community, asking people to contact police if they have any information on Ashley and Steven Myers, the man they suspect she's with.
Sean Lyon said Ashley, who goes to Newsome High School in Lithia, became acquainted with Myers about six months ago through his two teenage sons who lived down the street from her family's Twin Lakes subdivision home.
Myers moved from Georgia to Plant City, where he was staying with his mother, Sean Lyon said.
His ex-wife and two sons live in the Twin Lakes subdivision, and Myers started coming over in January to do repairs in the home and as a way for him to become reacquainted with his children, he said.
Myers began to socialize with his children's friends, including Ashley, Sean Lyon said. They would hang out near a bridge, a creek and on the driveway of a home. The teenagers started to call him Dad, Sean Lyon said.
The family didn't worry, though, he said, until they were contacted a few weeks ago by Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies. Myers, the deputies said, was a registered sex offender.
The family grounded Ashley, even though she said she wasn't having contact with Myers, Sean Lyon said.
That wasn't true, he said. The family found out Ashley and Myers were sending text, photo and video messages to each other using pseudonyms.
Her family believes Myers has taken advantage of her. In school, she's felt like an outsider and he's giving her attention, Sean Lyon said. She was diagnosed as bi-polar a few years ago and didn't take her medicine when she left the home, he said.
Ashley's family is confident that they are together. A family friend told the family she saw Ashley walking with a backpack on the day she went missing. Sean Lyon said he saw Myers driving his black 1989 Ford Ranger pickup in the direction his sister was last seen. The vehicle has distinctive flames spray painted on the hood and on the side of the vehicle. The license tag number is CSJ-M45.
The sheriff's office held a news conference about the case on Monday, but stressed investigators are not sure Myers is connected to Ashley's disappearance.
“We don't have anything that says 100 percent they are together,” sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said.
The sheriff's office said they were contacted Wednesday night and have interviewed family, friends and associates. The sheriff's office has received several leads that detectives are pursuing, Lusczynski said.
The sheriff's office, which has issued a missing person's alert for Ashley, said they are worried the pair might be out of state and have contacted officials in Georgia, where Myers is known to visit and has acquaintances.
Myers was charged in 1998 with aggravated child molestation with a child under the age of 17, Lusczynski said. Georgia state records show he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released in 2012.
As a sexual offender, he can't live 1,000 feet from a school, playground or church. He is not prohibited from being around children. He is required to register with authorities twice a year, which he last did in April, Lusczynski said.
Anyone with information on Ashley or Myers is asked to contact the sheriff's office at (813) 247-8200.