Florida priest missing; felon wanted in his disappearance

Father Rene Robert and a photo of a 2012 blue Toyota 4-door (not actual vehicle).

JACKSONVILLE, FL (WTLV) — A recently incarcerated felon is now wanted in connection to the disappearance of a St. Johns County priest, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Commander Chuck Mulligan said Wednesday afternoon.

Detectives have been searching for Father Rene Robert, 71, who was last reported to have been seen on Sunday afternoon in St. Johns County.

The suspected driver at the time, who is also a Person of Interest in the Father's disappearance, has been identified as Steven James Murray (St. Johns County Sheriff's Office)
The suspected driver at the time, who is also a Person of Interest in the Father’s disappearance, has been identified as Steven James Murray (St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office)

Father Robert is described as being a white male, standing 5’8″ tall, and could be wearing eyeglasses.

Police believe Steven James Murray, 28, is involved in his disappearance and they say foul play is suspected.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office reports Father Robert’s car was found in Aiken, South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon.

At last report, Murray was still on the run, and there was an active manhunt near the Georgia-South Carolina border, more than 200 miles north of Jacksonville.

Mulligan says police chased Murray northward up I-95 in Father Robert’s blue Toyota 4-door into Duval County Tuesday night, but lost track of the vehicle near Butler Blvd. Police have an arrest warrant out for Murray for fleeing and eluding police.

Mulligan says Father Robert was introduced to Murray by a third party and the priest was trying to help him. Murray was released from the Duval County jail just one week ago.

He spent time in jail in 2013 on charges for dealing in stolen property, burglary, and giving false information on pawned items. He was most recently in for driving with a suspended license and failure to appear in court.

“We believe Mr. Murray may have taken advantage of that situation leading to the disappearance of Father Robert.”

Father Robert is retired but still does work for two different churches in St. Johns County.

“Father Robert is widely loved in the community.” Mulligan said.

Anyone with information on the missing person investigation is asked to contact SJCSO detectives at 904-824-8304.

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