ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar confirmed during a Monday night news conference that a body believed to be that of missing Catholic priest Father Rene Robert was found in Georgia.
"My brother died doing what he loved: helping people," said Debbie Bedard, Father Rene's sister. "And if it wasn't for the sheriff's department, all the agencies, they wouldn't have found my brother, and I thank God that they did so we can take him home."
Investigators from St. Johns and Duval counties are in Burke County and the Burke County Sheriff said the body believed to be Father Rene will be transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta for positive identification. The body was found four miles off Highway 56 around 7:30 p.m. Monday in Waynesboro, Ga., south of Augusta, Ga.
"It was obvious that he was the victim of homicidal violence," Sheriff Shoar said of how Father Rene was found in Georgia.
Father Rene was last seen Sunday, April 10 and Sheriff Shoar said Father Rene was most likely killed between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. that night. A welfare check was done on Father Rene on Tuesday, April 12 after he didn't show up for a funeral on Sunday and a missing persons investigation was launched.
That same night, Father Rene's car, a blue Toyota, led authorities on a high-speed chase on Interstate 95 through St. Johns and Duval counties, and authorities lost track of the car in a road construction work site near Interstate 95 and J. Turner Butler Boulevard.
Late Wednesday night, Father Rene's car was spotted in Aiken, South Carolina and 28-year-old Steven Murray, the suspect in Father Rene's disappearance, was taken into custody early Thursday morning. During his time in South Carolina, Shoar said Murray committed additional crimes such as burglary and taking weapons.
Murray was extradited to Florida and booked into the St. Johns County Jail late Friday night. Over the weekend, a large scale search for Father Rene was conducted on the Westside of Jacksonville. Authorities believe Father Rene was trying to help Murray, who had recently gotten out of jail.
During the investigation, SJSO investigators "developed a rapport" with Murray, who led them to "several locations involved in this case to include where a body was found" on Monday, according to a release from SJSO.
"I thank this young man for coming forward, helping out on that part so we can get on with our life, we can bring our brother home. Can't forgive him. My brother may, my brother may when he gets to him, but I'm not going to forgive him," said Brian Robert, Father Rene's brother.
Shoar said authorities are convinced the homicide happened in Georgia, so the charges will come from that jurisdiction. Murray also faces a kidnapping charge in Duval County, Shoar said. Authorities are uncertain how many trips Murray took to Aiken, S.C. from the time Father Rene was killed until Murray was taken into custody.
In addition to the news conference, Sheriff Shoar released the following statement:
"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. He will be sorely missed. I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act." He continued. "This complex investigation, that spanned three states and numerous counties, revealed an exemplary cooperation between many investigators and departments."
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Cox Media Group