Katelin Akens Wiki: Puzzling Case of Missing Virginia Woman

Katelin Akens, 19 at the time, disappeared on December 5, 2015. She had been visiting family in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and was supposed to fly home to Arizona that day. She was last seen at her ex-stepfather’s place. He claims he dropped her off at the airport, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Katelin did not make it to the airport and has not been heard from since. Her ex-stepfather has been anything but helpful.

This Katelin Akens wiki examines her life and the puzzling events surrounding her strange disappearance.

About Katelin Michelle Akens
Age24 Years
BirthSeptember 2, 1996
Weight122 lbs.
SpouseAmber Rios (fiancee)
SiblingsGabrielle Madison (Akens)
ParentsLisa Sullivan

Who Is Katelin Akens?

Katelin Michelle Akens was born September 2, 1996 to mother Lisa Sullivan. She grew up in Caroline County, Virginia, with one sister, Gabrielle Akens (now Madison). When Katelin was seven, her mother married James Branton.

Katelin Akens is described by her friends and family as unique, quirky, sometimes unpredictable, and emotional.  The outgoing punk girl dyed her hair different colors, gave herself different haircuts, and had tattoos and piercings.

Katelin Akens

Katelin Akens; Photo: https://www.facebook.com/pg/HelpFindKatelinAkens

While Akens didn’t always belong in conservative Caroline County, she had an active social life. Her fun-loving, carefree attitude led her from boyfriend to boyfriend and girlfriend to girlfriend.

But Akens wanted more. She asked her mother if she could graduate from high school early. She was clearly smart and knew dropping out wasn’t an option. She also knew a four-year grind would be a waste of her time.

When Akens was 15, she took classes to complete her junior and senior years of high school. She graduated from high school when she was just 16. After graduating, she started to work and get on with her life.

Katelin Akens’ home life might have been one reason why she wanted to get out and move on with her life. Life with her stepfather was, according to some, far from perfect.

“She flat-out didn’t trust him,” said Katelin’s close friend Kevin Eastridge. “She felt very nervous around him, and that he was kind of abusive to an extent. I can’t confirm physical because she never outright told me, but definitely verbally.”

During this time, Akens’ best friend was a girl by the name of Amber Rios. When the two were around 11 years old, Rios and her family moved from Virginia to Arizona.

Katelin Akens Moves to Arizona to Be with Rios

Despite the distance, the two girls remained close, talking each and every day. As they got older, they came to realize that their friendship had blossomed into a long-distance romance.

In December 2014, shortly after Katelin Akens turned 18, she moved out to Arizona to be with Rios. Soon after, the two became engaged.

Katelin Akens, left, and Amber Rios; Photo: Facebook

Again, despite the distance, Akens remained in close contact with her family, in particular her mother and sister Gabi. She spoke to each of them two or three times a day.

While in Arizona, the now 19-year-old Akens decided she wanted to be a cosmetologist. She registered at a local school, but they told her she needed to provide them with a copy of her high school diploma. Unfortunately, it was back in Virginia with her family.

Katelin Akens Returns to Virginia in Early December 2015 to Visit Family

As luck would have it, her sister Gabi had just had a baby boy. Katelin Akens decided to return to Virginia in December 2015 to hold her new nephew, Landon, see her family, and grab her high school diploma.

But it would be a quick trip: she would land in Virginia on Tuesday, December 1 and return to Arizona on Saturday, December 5. Akens wanted to stay longer, but her first day of cosmetology school was Monday, December 7.

During her short visit, Akens spent a lot of time with her family and managed to hang out with some friends from high school.

On December 4, Katelin Akens visited some friends from high school, a man and a woman who were now dating. They hung out, played cards, and drank. Akens actually ended up spending the night at her friends’ place because there was no designated driver.

The next morning, they drove Akens back to her mother’s place. Akens was able to spend time with her mother, sister, and new nephew. According to her family, Akens was in good spirits and seemed totally fine.

December 5, 2015 Katelin Akens Vanishes

Katelin Akens needed a ride to the airport. Her flight wasn’t until 5:40 p.m., but her mother Lisa Sullivan had to work that day. She couldn’t make the 50-mile drive to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in D.C.

Before Sullivan left for work, she dropped her daughter off at her ex-husband James Branton’s place in Partlow, Virginia at 9:20 a.m. Sullivan and Branton were on good terms. And even though the relationship between Akens and Branton was strained, he was the only father she really knew. Akens hadn’t seen her biological father since she was three.

“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,” Sullivan recalled.

Branton also had to work that Saturday, but he didn’t have to begin his shift until 3:00 p.m. He decided to drop Akens off at the airport a little early.

According to Branton, Akens asked to be dropped off at the Springfield Mall Metro Station, two stops from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, because she wanted to kill some time before her flight.

From there, Branton claims his former stepdaughter said she was going to walk to the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station and take a train to the airport.

“She’s never really been on the Metro before since she was like six, seven, so I don’t know why he would do that,” said Sullivan about Branton. “He just said yes, he was gonna do it.”

Katelin Akens

Katelin Akens; Photo: NAMUS

At 1:52 p.m. that afternoon, Branton texted Sullivan to say he had dropped Akens off. Their text exchange was as follows:

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

A Series of Odd Text Messages

Just a few short minutes later, Sullivan received a text from her daugher Katelin, or at least someone using her phone. It said, “I’m at the airport. Battery dying so won’t be able to text for a bit.”

Sullivan later learned that Akens had sent her fiancée Rios a totally different text earlier at 11:56 a.m.: “Something came up. I’m not coming back today. I’ll let you know when I get a new flight. I won’t be able to text for a bit.”

Rios thought this text was strange and out of character. So she reached out to Sullivan to see if she had heard from Akens.

“I got nervous when Amber had texted or messaged me saying that Katelin wasn’t coming home, she needed a new flight, something was wrong with her flight, and I was like, ‘What do you mean? She said she was there,’” said Sullivan.

Sullivan continued to call and text Akens but got no answer. The young woman who was never without her phone had gone silent.

Hours later, at 7:15 p.m., almost two hours after Akens had missed her flight, Sullivan received two final texts from Akens’ phone that alarmed her. They said: “I’m staying with a friend” and “I need some time alone.”

Sullivan, who was on her way home from work, quickly pulled over the second she received the texts, to call her daughter right away. But her call went to voicemail. Akens’ phone had apparently been turned off.

Sullivan was concerned for many reasons: the timing of the texts meant Akens had missed her flight; Akens wasn’t replying to her texts when she knew her mother was distraught; and the texts Akens sent didn’t sound like her, with two back-to-back texts and no emojis.

“It didn’t sound right. It didn’t look right because it was two messages,” said Sullivan. “And she doesn’t do that. She’ll wait for you to respond, and then she’ll send another one. It wasn’t her style.”

Right before Sullivan received her final texts from Akens, Rios received a strange message through Facebook Messenger. In it, Akens said she couldn’t come back because she had cheated on her. But even Rios said the message didn’t “sound” right, as if it wasn’t coming from Akens; the cadence wasn’t right.

Besides, Akens and Rios hadn’t been having any troubles and it didn’t sound like something Akens would do. Even if Akens had cheated, it would have been the kind of thing that she would call to discuss. It was not something she would message Rios about and then vanish.

Earlier that day, Katelin Akens had seemed completely normal. Now her behavior seemed strange: she had dumped her fiancée and decided she wasn’t returning to Arizona. And no one could explain why.

Branton, meanwhile, was sticking to his story that he had dropped Akens off at the mall that afternoon and she seemed totally fine.

In the days following Akens’ disappearance, her family and friends desperately tried to get a hold of her, calling on a regular basis. Phone records later showed that the only person who didn’t make a single attempt to call or text Akens was Branton. Did he know something no one else did?

Road Crew Finds Katelin Akens’ Luggage

On December 7, 2015, two days after Akens failed to board her flight to Arizona, Sullivan went to the local police station and filed a missing person’s report. While she was filling out the paperwork, police received a phone call.

Police took Sullivan to an interview room. A road crew had found Akens’ blue suitcase in a drainage ditch in the 6600 block of River Road outside Fredericksburg, Virginia.

That location was absolutely nowhere near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. In fact, it was more than 50 miles south of the airport. But it was just a few miles from where Branton lived.

Akens’ ID, wallet, glasses, cash, phone charger, and credit and debit cards were still inside her luggage. What was missing? Akens’ phone, clothing, and high school diploma. Detectives said the suitcase was scuffed up and one of the wheels was missing, suggesting it had been thrown out of a moving vehicle.

The discovery of the suitcase raised more questions. How did her bag get so far from where Branton said he had dropped her off? How could one person drive and throw the big piece of luggage out the window?

Did Katelin Akens Run Away?

Raymond Gemma is a private investigator who helped Sullivan search for Katelin Akens. According to Gemma, Branton might have played a part in Akens’ disappearance, but it might not have been nefarious. He proposed that Akens had run away.

“Again, it’s speculation, but a potential theory is that Katelin may have ran away, and he knows about it and she left her suitcase there and didn’t tell him she was doing it,” said Gemma.

“She could have left without him even knowing. That’s a potential theory and once he found out she’s missing, it was kind of like an ‘Oh crap’ moment for him: ‘Oh my God, her suitcase is here, I have to get rid of it.’”

Katelin Akens

Katelin Akens; Photo: NAMUS

It’s possible. Katelin Akens could have taken her clothing and she would need her high school diploma to get a job in the future. She would definitely not have taken her credit and debit cardsusing those would leave a trail. Akens would also need to create a new identity, so no need for her ID card.

Interestingly, police discovered that Akens had had a conversation on social media with someone on December 5, the day she went missing, where she said, “I don’t want to be here. And I don’t want to be there.”

This arguably could have meant that Akens didn’t want to be in Virginia or Arizona.

Maybe Akens did run away. Maybe she wanted out of her engagement and wanted to start over again.

Police have never been able to substantiate the theory that Katelin Akens ran away. At the same time, they have not said how they think her suitcase ended up in a ditch. If Akens did run away, the million-dollar question is, why?

Did Katelin Akens Vanish Because She Thought She’d Cheated on Rios?

As mentioned previously, Katelin Akens had spent her last night in Virginia partying with a friend from high school and the friend’s boyfriend. Akens later told her friend Kevin Eastridge that the three of them had been drinking and things had gotten out of hand.

“It’s kind of a hard thing to describe, really,” Eastridge said. “From what she told me, they were all drinking together and then they proceeded to, how do I phrase itI guess they kind of forced themselves onto her.”

Katelin texted to Eastridge: “Her boyfriend got really really really drunk and then she kissed me and then he kissed me. They did everything to me and each other.”

Akens spent the next morning racked with guilt because she thought she’d cheated on her fiancée, according to Eastridge.

“I don’t know how to feel or anything. I’ve been depressed and crying all day,” she texted to Eastridge.

Akens’ high school friend and her boyfriend later told police that they’d had a drunken threesome and regretted it the next morning.

This at least explains Akens’ private Facebook message to Rios, where she said she’d cheated on her.

Could guilt and shame have been the reason why Katelin Akens disappeared?

Katelin and Amber

Amber and Katelin; Photo: Facebook

It wasn’t reason enough for Rios.

On November 30, 2015, the day before Akens left for Virginia, Rios updated her profile picture on Facebook. It was a picture of the happy couple on a beach.

Then there was nothing until December 9, four days after Akens went missing. Rios posted Akens’ missing poster. Five days later, she uploaded another one.

On December 25, 2015, Rios wrote, “Its been a good day but i wish Katelin was here to share it with.”

Three days later, Rios uploaded a short video of her with Akens, writing, “I just found this in my phone and started balling [sic] my eyes out even though im at work :'( god i miss her so much </3.”

December 29, Rios wrote, “I wish i could just know where Katelin is so i could go get her. I need her sooo bad and i hate not knowing where she is. Im falling apart :'(.”

On December 29, a distraught Rios also said, “Every time i get a notification on my phone i pray its from katelin, but every time it isn’t from her </3 :'( im just waiting for the day when it is from her <3 i didn’t know there was pain like this and i would never ever in a million years wish this pain on anyone else </3 i miss you so extremely fucking much Katelin!!!! Please i just want you home safe. Please just find a way to talk to me. If you want me to i will fly down there and bring you home with me <3 i love you soooo incredibly much <3 anything you want i will find a way to get it for you <3 i just want to hear your voice and talk to you babybug.”

Cellphone Towers Tell Different Story Than Branton

Weeks after Akens disappeared, police were able to get their hands on her phone records. These records told a completely different story than the one Branton had been telling.

Just before 2:00 p.m., on the day Akens disappeared, Sullivan received a text from Akens’ phone: “I’m at the airport. Battery dying so won’t be able to text for a bit.” But at that exact moment, Akens’ phone pinged at a location more than 30 miles from the Springfield Metro stop, where Branton claimed to have dropped her off.

When Sullivan’s ex-husband texted her at 1:52 p.m., saying he’d just dropped Akens off at the airport, his cell phone pinged close to his home. Again, this is nowhere near the mall or airport, which is where he claimed to have been.

It appears as though all of Branton’s cell phone activity that day came from his house. Ultimately, police don’t believe that Katelin Akens ever left the area around her former stepfather’s rural home.

What about Akens’ final 7:15 p.m. texts, saying she was “staying with a friend”? Two detectives working on the case, Rob Marshall and Sharon Williams, said the messages pinged off a tower in Stafford County, less than 15 miles from where Akens’ suitcase was found.

“Whoever sent that message, ’cause we don’t know if it was her or not, has sent Amber a message, and then me a message, and that was the last bit that was on her phone,” said Sullivan.

There are other inconsistencies in Branton’s version of events on December 5, 2015. He claimed he had to drop Akens off early because he had to work that Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. But police found out that he’d never showed up at the office.

Branton never showed up at that office again. He didn’t work for six months. And when he did get back to work, it was with a different company.

Katelin Akens Last Seen Alive at Branton’s Home

Katelin Akens has no history of mental illness and no history of simply disappearing.

The last confirmed sighting of Akens was at Branton’s home before she was supposed to have headed for the airport. But police now know that Branton was never near the airport.

This was also confirmed by the fact that police were unable to find surveillance video of Akens or her ex-stepfather at either the mall or the Metro.

Not surprisingly, after police discovered that Akens never actually made it to Springfield Mall, they focused their attention on Branton. They didn’t get far.

Branton, a man who was the closest thing to a father that Akens ever knew, refused to cooperate with police. He would not give them the password to his encrypted cell phone and refused to take a polygraph test.

To be fair, Branton said he would initially take a polygraph test on December 29, 2015 to clear his name. But after talking to a lawyer, he changed his tune.

“It was that day that had come up to his polygraph, he said no, he called the detective and said no,” said Sullivan. “He said. ‘It’s not gonna help me so there’s no point in me doing it.’

“I don’t know why he still won’t take it,” Sullivan continued. “I asked him in December (2016) if he’d go take the polygraph test and start talking. He still refuses.”

Detectives did get a search warrant for Branton’s home and property. They took a number of guns, electronics, and a sample of his DNA. But nothing led them to Akens. Oddly, Branton has never asked to get any of his possessions back.

According to Sullivan, Branton didn’t have many friends, and the only person who might have helped him on December 5, 2015 was his mother. She lived nearby in another home that Branton owned. But police never searched that property. Nor can they, apparently. He owns the property and has access to it, but his mother is the tenant.

Sullivan Not Letting Branton off the Hook

As the months and now years pass since Katelin Akens suddenly vanished, Sullivan and her family mark special occasions by releasing balloons. But Sullivan also has no intention of letting Branton go on his merry way.

Sullivan once left a letter for him 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?” Sullivan said.

“He has done nothing, he hasn’t even gone to anything we have done for her.”

“Hasn’t shown up for nothing.”

Still, Sullivan holds out hope that Katelin Akens will be found alive.

Lisa Sullivan's Letter to Katelin Aken's Stepfather

Lisa Sullivan’s Letter to Katelin Aken’s Stepfather; Photo: Facebook

More Questions than Answers

Unfortunately, the events of December 5, 2015 remain a mystery.

The last place Katelin Akens was seen was Branton’s house. Did Akens tell her ex-stepfather about the turmoil in her life, and did he help her run away? Or did something horrible happen to the young woman that Branton knows about?

It’s reasonable to assume Branton must know something. But he refuses to cooperate.

In a text, Akens claimed to be at the airport, but her phone pinged from miles away. If she did actually make it to the airport, we know James didn’t take her, because his phone pinged from his house.

In fact, the phones were pinging in the wrong location all day long. Akens’ phone pinged in a number of nearby locations in Virginia. Branton’s texts all originated from his home.

If the text messages sent on December 5, 2015 from Akens’ phone didn’t actually come from her, as her family and Rios contend, how did the person who sent them know that Akens had “cheated” on her fiancé? As far as is known, the only people who knew about that were Katelin Akens, her high school friend and her boyfriend, and Akens’ friend Kevin Eastridge.

So far, no one theory accounts for the mountain of evidence.

Click here for the Katelin Akens missing poster.