The search for Father Rene Robert has turned to wooded areas around St. Augustine, Florida, as police hunt for the missing priest who disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Robert was last seen on April 10, and officials at his church turned to police when the 71-year-old failed to show up to a scheduled function, CNN reported. Police suspect that 28-year-old Steven Murray, a man whom Robert had been counseling at the time of his disappearance, may have played a role. Police found Murray with Robert’s stolen car in South Carolina, and he was extradited back to Florida.
— Jax Sheriff's Office (@JSOPIO) April 16, 2016
As the hunt for Father Robert has stretched on, police have widened the search to areas around Jacksonville.
Police are now calling on local residents to help search for Father Rene Robert, asking them to check around their homes and review any surveillance footage they may have.
“Check their property thoroughly, including wooded areas and around bodies of water,” the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Saturday. “Call police if anything is found that looks suspicious. Do not touch or tamper with anything located.”
Police also asked that anyone who may have seen Robert’s 2012 blue Toyota Corolla in the late evening hours of Sunday, April 10, in the I-10/Beaver Street corridor between Baldwin and I-295 to contact police.
The tenor of the message was not hopeful, as officials believe Rene Robert may have already been killed.
“Law enforcement is determining where to search based on the information that they received from Murray,” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. “What they want people to do was to check around their homes. They are thinking of the worst-case scenario. If Father Robert was killed, he could’ve been buried somewhere in this area, so they’re asking people to just check around their home … garden tools, shovels and rakes that are misplaced.”
As the search extends on nearing a week, friends and family gathered this week to pray for the missing priest, First Coast News reported. Many noted the work he has done in the community, and his sister said he would often working with troubled people to help them back onto the right path.
Prayer vigil for Father Rene Robert at San Sebastian Catholic Church in St. Augustine. pic.twitter.com/H7vXeqOBto
— Nicole Snyder (@NicoleOneClay) April 16, 2016
“Some people you just can’t trust. But, he would say, ‘you know what? The good Lord will take care of me. And, you have to trust,’ ” said Debbie Bedard.
Bedard, who flew to Florida from New York along with other family members, said the search for Father Rene Robert has been draining. She added that the prayer service was a help, allowing her to see the wide impact he has had on the community.
“It was hard at first. I enjoyed listening to what they had to say about my brother. I just want to thank everyone,” Bedard said.
Other family members said that as the search for Father Rene Robert drags on, they are starting to fear the worst.
“I have visions of him laying in a ditch some place or locked in a closet,” his half-sister, Joan McAndrews, told WTEN-TV (via the Albany Times Union).
Anyone who may have information on the location of Father Rene Robert is asked to contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at 904-630-0500. Anonymous tips can be sent to Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
[Image via Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office]