Stephanie Murrell woke up in her Eustis home just northwest of Orlando last Wednesday around 5:30 a.m. to find her 2015 Nissan Altima gone. It was there when she went to bed the night before, but someone stole it.
The car -- driven by a 16-year-old boy from DeLand, with a 15-year-old boy, also from DeLand, riding shotgun -- turned up in Tavernier around 12:30 p.m. April 20 after a brief chase with the Florida Highway Patrol.
Troopers found two guns in the car.
The boys face charges of grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding police, resisting arrest without violence and not having valid IDs.
But the case may not be as cut and dry as it seemed last week. The older boy says he was forced into the car by the other boy and told to drive to the Keys at gunpoint. If what the alleged victim's mother says is true, then a series of bizarre events led to her son winding up in the Keys.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office is still "actively investigating" the case, so the agency only released a heavily-redacted offense report.
In it, Deputy Garrett Test states the 15-year-old "explained he has kidnapped by the other juvenile at gun point." Sgt. Yunier Gavez stated the boy "was claiming he had been kidnapped and was being held against his will, until he was stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol."
"Upon receiving the information that [the boy], a minor, was possibly kidnapped, I contacted Major Crimes Detective P. O'Keefe and advised her of the situation," Galvez wrote in his report.
O'Keefe, the lead investigator, would not comment on the cases.
Andrew Gant, spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, said the agency only investigated the boys going missing on April 19 and 20 and has not looked into claims the younger boy was kidnapped.
"We only dealt with the missing juvenile reports," Gant said. "Can't speak for any other agency, but we didn't have any kidnapping allegations here in Volusia County."
The 16-year-old's mother, who The Reporter is not identifying because her son is a minor, said the school resources deputy at her son's school asked her to meet with him Thursday because "this all started there."
The mother said the other boy waited for her son to get off the bus at their school on April 20. He was armed, she said, and told her son he had to come with him. The two teens left the school, and the older boy was locked in a shed, his mother said.
The younger boy returned a few hours later with the Nissan and forced the other teen to drive, his mother said. She said her son was speeding all the way to the Keys in hopes a law enforcement officer would pull over the car.
The boys were stopped by an FHP trooper on Tavernier Drive and Coconut Lane near mile marker 91.5, on the ocean side of U.S. 1, around 12:30 p.m. April 20, according to the FHP.
A trooper saw the car speeding south at mile marker 93 on U.S. 1 and gave chase. The Altima traveled over the center median just west of Coconut Lane before coming to a stop at a dead end.
As to what the motivation for the alleged kidnapping might be, the mother said it could be related to recent bullying she said her son had experienced at school.
That bullying, she said, also followed him home. On April 16, she called the Volusia County Sheriff's Office to report a 19-year-old man who she said choked her son, and his 11-year-old brother, four days earlier.
That man was arrested on April 16 on two counts of being a principal to child abuse, according to Volusia County Clerk of the Court records.
"I called the police and he was arrested," the mother said.