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Missing Florida Priest’s Car Found, Driver Arrested

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MIAMI (AP) — South Carolina law enforcement authorities said Thursday that a “person of interest” was arrested while driving a car belonging to a missing Roman Catholic priest — 300 miles from where he disappeared in St. Augustine, Florida.

Steven James Murray, 28, was arrested in Aiken, South Carolina, on Wednesday night, authorities said. The car belonged to the Rev. Rene Robert, 71, who has not been seen since Sunday.

Inside the car were numerous weapons, including a rifle with a scope, said Sheriff David Shoar of St. Johns County, Florida. Shoar said Murray had threatened “to kill as many cops as he could” but that no one was injured during the arrest.

An emotional Shoar called Robert a personal friend, and said he fears the worst has happened to the priest who was known around St. Augustine for helping the poor and destitute.

“Father was a gentle soul,” Shoar told reporters at a news conference. “A Franciscan, he always wore sandals no matter how cold it was out. A great man.”

Agencies “are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together” but still don’t know Robert’s whereabouts, Commander Chuck Mulligan of the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office said in a phone call. He said Robert’s disappearance is considered foul play.

Aiken County Sheriff’s spokesman Eric Abdullah wrote in a statement that deputies and U.S. marshals responded to Murray’s last known location Wednesday afternoon. As they approached the 2012 blue Toyota Corolla with Florida license plates, Murray drove away and crashed into a tree, then fled on foot, Abdullah wrote. Bloodhounds and a helicopter tracked Murray down and he was arrested, according to the statement. Police said neighbors and friends of Robert said the priest had been helping Murray who was recently released from jail.

Murray is charged with aggravated fleeing and attempting to elude. No charges have been filed against him in Florida related to Robert’s disappearance. Records don’t indicate whether he’s hired an attorney to contact for comment on the case.

Robert is a senior priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Shoar said his office is doing everything it can to locate the priest whom he said often gave money to people in need.

“He dealt with people addicted to drugs, hard lives,” Shoar said. “I’d call him one of our better angels. He never went looking for credit.”

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Associated Press reporters Jason Dearen in Gainesville and Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

About Savana Wrinkle

Savana is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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