VALRICO — Days before 16-year-old Ashley Lyon vanished from her Valrico home, her parents say she exchanged more than 2,000 text messages with a registered sex offender.
Deputies want to talk with that man, 41-year-old Steven Patrick Myers, but no one has been able to reach him or Ashley since Friday.
Ashley's parents, Roger and Michelle Lyon, spent the weekend handing out fliers and talking with state and national missing persons organizations to try to find their daughter. Hillsborough sheriff's investigators have so far been unable to turn up any evidence of her whereabouts.
"She doesn't need to be around this guy," Roger Lyon said Monday. "He's a sexual predator."
Ashley, who recently finished her sophomore year at Newsome High School, became acquainted with Myers in April, her parents said, when he began hanging around the neighborhood with his sons, Bryan and Jason Myers. She went to school with the boys and knew them well because their house is one street over from the cul-de-sac where Ashley lives.
Roger Lyon asked his daughter about the strange older man, who was known to ride skateboards with kids in the neighborhood. She downplayed Myers' past, Roger said, noting that he had been to jail and served probation.
They didn't know that Myers was twice convicted in Forsyth County, Ga., in 1998 for child molestation. Georgia state corrections records show Myers served two stints in prison for those convictions, first from 1999 to 2003, and again from 2010 to 2012.
Myers is not currently on probation, but is registered as a sex offender at his Plant City address. He is also barred from being within 1,000 feet of a school, sheriff's officials said.
Two weeks before Ashley disappeared, sheriff's deputies caught Myers with her and one of his sons in the cab of his truck near her home, her parents said. The deputies told Michelle Lyon that the trio was preparing to buy marijuana, Michelle said.
The deputies let Ashley go with a warning, but at home she was grounded. On Friday afternoon, her brother saw her in her bedroom about 2:30 p.m. At 4:30, he went to tell her that dinner was ready. The room was empty, the window open and the window screen lying in the yard.
Ashley, who suffers from bipolar disorder, left behind her medication. Her parents say she was seen shortly after she disappeared, walking on Stearns Road in Valrico. Investigators pulled her cellphone records and discovered the text messages, they said.
Hillsborough County sheriff's officials would not provide details about the circumstances of Ashley's disappearance, including any information about the text messages she and Myers exchanged.
It was not known late Monday afternoon if Ashley and Myers were together, officials said, but the case is being investigated with that assumption.
One concern is that they may have crossed state lines if they are together. Myers has gone back and forth between Florida and Georgia, but sheriff's officials would not elaborate beyond saying he has relations and ties to the state.
With each day that passes, her parents grow more worried. Some of the messages, they said, included photos and video.
"That really terrifies me," Roger Lyon said.
Ashley Lyon was last seen wearing a black tank top, black gym shorts and black Vans shoes. She is 5 feet 6 inches tall with a large build, brown eyes and black hair in a crew cut.
She and Myers may be traveling in his 1989 Ford Ranger pickup truck, which has flames painted on the front and sides. The truck bears Florida tag CSJ-M45.
Anyone with information regarding Ashley Lyon's whereabouts is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Jimmy Geurts contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.