Father Rene Robert, 71, was least seen at the Orange Park Medical Center, where he was visiting a patient on April 10. One week later, officials announced the Florida priest’s body was found hundreds of miles away in Georgia. Although the motive was not revealed, authorities confirmed Robert was killed and 28-year-old Steven James Murray was arrested and charged with murder.
The Florida priest was formally reported missing on April 12, as he missed numerous appointments, including at least one prayer service and a funeral. Authorities immediately suspected foul play, because Father Rene Robert was usually very responsible and prompt with his scheduled appointments.
PICS of Father Rene Robert saying mass. Tons of people are showing their love on social media. Beloved by many. pic.twitter.com/sDV3PcaCGs
— Vic Micolucci – WJXT (@WJXTvic) April 14, 2016
Murry became a suspect in the Florida priest’s disappearance last week, when he was found driving Father Rene Robert’s car in Aiken, South Carolina. Authorities said the man had numerous weapons on his person and inside the vehicle.
CBS News reports Steven James Murray was described as a career criminal, with numerous prior arrests. At the time of the Florida priest’s disappearance, Murray had only been out of jail for a few weeks.
— St. Augustine Record (@staugrecord) April 15, 2016
Authorities found the suspect driving Father Rene Robert’s 2012 blue Toyota Corolla last Wednesday. However, Murray attempted to flee the scene when U.S. marshals and Aiken County Sheriffs deputies approached the car.
Although he eventually crashed the vehicle into a tree, Steven James Murray continued to flee on foot. Authorities confirmed he was later tracked down using bloodhounds, a helicopter, and numerous search teams.
On Friday evening, the suspect was extradited to Florida, where he remains incarcerated at St. John’s County Jail.
Following his arrest, Murray disclosed “several locations involved in this case,” including the location where Father Rene Robert’s body was eventually found.
Authorities have not disclosed a specific timeline of events between the Florida priest’s disappearance and Steven James Murray’s arrest. However, they believe Father Rene Robert was killed in Georgia.
As reported by News 4 Jax, officials believe the Florida priest was killed on the evening of April 10, and his body was dumped in a wooded area near Augusta, Georgia, the same night.
In addition to aggravated fleeing, first-degree murder, and kidnapping, Murray is suspected in several residential burglaries that occurred between Florida and South Carolina prior to his arrest.
USA Today confirmed Father Rene Robert’s body was recovered and that he was obviously murdered. However, his specific cause of death has not been determined at this time.
During a prayer vigil, Linda Bertino, of the St. Bonaventure Secular Franciscan Fraternity, said the Florida priest was a good man, who will be sorely missed.
“Father Rene was such a loving person and he would do anything for anybody and most people would say the same thing and the fact that he was trying to help somebody and that person took advantage of him, that’s what hurts the most.”
Father Rene Robert’s brother said he and his family are mourning a deep loss. Although the Florida priest was a forgiving man, Bryan said he is simply not ready for forgiveness.
“I can’t forgive him (Murray). My brother may. My brother may be mad at me when (it) gets to him, but I’m not going to forgive him. Hopefully, we can do something to eliminate this in the future.”
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, who led the investigation in Florida, said he also knew and respected Father Rene Robert.
“I join many others within our community who were touched by Father Rene over the years and extend my condolences to his family and friends. I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act… “
It is unclear what prompted Steven James Murray to kidnap and kill Father Rene Robert. However, authorities believe Robert may have been attempting to help the suspect when the crime occurred.
[Image via Mr.Nikon/Shutterstock]