Virginia woman's disappearance continues to puzzle police, two years later

- Investigators are still looking for answers two years after 19-year-old Katelin Akens went missing from her ex-stepfather's home in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

Her disappearance is a haunting case that's left investigators deeply puzzled.

Strange text messages, luggage found by the side of the road, and a witness who refuses to cooperate baffles investigators.

Detectives Rob Marshall and Sharon Williams have done seemingly everything they can think of to solve the case.

"We have worked with what three psychics? We are not going to turn down any information," says Detective Williams.

The two say they are constantly thinking about the investigation, wondering what they may have missed. Both of them have been puzzled over two text messages sent from the teen's phone the day she disappeared.

"I'm staying with a friend."
"I need some time alone."

Police believe they were sent from the tower in Stafford County. No one in the investigation and certainly not anyone in Katelin's family thinks she was the one who typed those messages. 

Katelin's mom,  Lisa Sullivan, says she doesn't believe the texts were from her daughter.

"No, because it was two text messages in a row. Katelin doesn't do that," she says.

Sullivan drove Katelin to her ex-husband's home in Partlow, Virginia, on December 5, 2015.

Lisa and James Branton had been divorced by then, but the two had remained friends. Branton agreed to drive Katelin to Reagan National for her flight to Arizona, where she had been living with her fiance Amber.

Sullivan dropped her off at his house.

"He seemed happy to see us, see her. He seemed happy, excited they were talking about her cosmetology school, her high school diploma. They were talking about it, sitting on the couch."

Katelin's flight was at 5 p.m., but according to Branton, the teen wanted to be dropped off at the Springfield Mall to kill some time before taking the Metro to the airport.

At 1:52 p.m., Branton sent a message to Sullivan.

Branton: "I dropped Katelin off."
Sullivan: "Okay thank you."
Sullivan: "How was traffic?"
Branton: "Not too bad."

Eight minutes later, Sullivan received a text from Katelin's phone that said "I'm at the airport. Battery dying so won't be able to text for a bit."

And then five hours and fifteen minutes later, Sullivan received texts from Katelin that sent a wave of fear over her and her family. 

"I'm staying with a friend" "I need some time alone"

Investigators say the text messages were sent not from the airport, but from Katelin's phone near I-95 in Stafford County.

Within days, investigators knew Katelin had actually never made it to Springfield Mall, and they began to question her Branton.

The last time Katelin was seen alive was at Branton's home. Spotsylvania police have been interested in Branton. They say he has not been truthful about where he took Katelin the day she disappeared. He has refused to take a polygraph test and has declined to turn over the password to his encrypted cell phone.

FOX 5 attempted to reach James Branton to get his side of the story, leaving a note in his mailbox and calling him on the phone. Detectives say they have not spoken to Branton two years.

"No, he has nothing to do with us," says Detective Marshall.

Investigators searched his home, taking a variety of guns, electronics and Branton's DNA, but there was nothing that would lead them to Katelin.

Two days after Katelin failed to board her flight, a road crew found her luggage in a ditch along a road in Fredericksburg, nowhere near Reagan National Airport, and just a few miles from Branton's home.

Her ID, wallet and glasses were still inside, but not her clothes or high school diploma. Detectives say it appears someone threw the luggage out of a vehicle.

"There was one wheel missing, and scuff marks on the luggage which was a clear indication that it had tumbled," says Det. Marshall.

And although Katelin's mother is convinced her daughter did not disappear on her own, there was a Facebook message Katelin sent to a friend which said:

"That she doesn't want to be here, meaning Virginia, and she doesn't want to be in Arizona," says Det. Marshall.

As the days and months go by with no sign of Katelin, Sullivan and her family have marked special occasions by releasing balloons into the air. At the same time, she has kept the pressure on Branton. She recently left a letter at his home.

"Do you care at all? You are acting like a coward. I trusted you James. Why didn't you just drop Katelin off at the airport?"

"He has done nothing, he hasn't even gone to anything we have done for her," says Sullivan.

"Hasn't shown up for nothing."

Despite the ominous signs Katelin may have met foul play, Sullivan still holds out hope her daughter is still alive.
 

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