‘It was terrifying:’ Two families threatened by suspicious men on St. Johns County beaches

'It was terrifying:' Two families threatened by suspicious men on St. Johns County beaches

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Two families said they felt threatened and harassed by suspicious men on St. Johns County beaches.

On Sunday, Eli Thrift was trying to surprise his wife, Stacy Thrift, to make her birthday special.

“I decided to surprise her by going out to Matanzas Inlet,” Eli Thrift said. “It’s a place that’s kind of personal for us.”

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But Thrift said things quickly got tense when a man approached them.

Thrift thought he was asking for money, but he said the man wouldn’t leave them alone, even following them as they acted like they were leaving.

“I started feeling a sense of serious danger,” Thrift said. “Not like I’m about to be mugged, but a more sinister feeling.”


Thrift made up a reason to turn around and go back to the beach, but said the man followed again.

“We turn and look behind us, and he’s running,” Thrift said. "He’s in a full sprint running at us. I’ve never in my life had to run for my life, but we were running, complete terror.”

In the 911 call, Thrift told the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office to hurry.

“He’s following us,” Thrift told the dispatcher. “We need you guys to come.”

In the calls, one can hear him consoling his wife, who’s panicked.

“Look at me. It’s OK. You need to stay quiet,” Thrift can be heard saying.

The Thrifts waited in the water for deputies, trying to stay low and out of view of the man.

The Sheriff’s Office responded but couldn’t find him.

Action News Jax spoke with a deputy who returned to the scene Thursday. He said he responded to the call that night and was still on the lookout.

Action News Jax learned of another case just to the north in Vilano Beach. According to a witness, a man aggressively followed a mom and her kids Wednesday.

“Is it possible that this is the same person?” Action News Jax reporter Russell Colburn asked Thrift, showing him a photo we obtained.

“Yeah, there’s a possibility,” Thrift said.

Right now, the Thrifts are just trying to move on.

“I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face, the fear,” Thrift said. “It was terrifying.”

Thrift said the man was wearing a hoodie and hat.