ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — The weeklong search for a missing Florida priest ended Monday evening in rural east Georgia when authorities found what they believe to be the body of the Rev. Rene Wayne Robert.
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar made the announcement Monday night in St. Augustine, where Robert, 71, was a senior priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine. The body was found near Waynesboro, Georgia, after the man arrested while driving Robert’s car led police there.
The body still needs to be positively identified by authorities in Georgia. But Shoar said during a late-night news conference in St. Augustine all the evidence collected indicates it is Robert.
The motive for the killing remains unclear.
Law enforcement authorities in Aiken, South Carolina, tracked down Steven James Murray, 28, following a manhunt. He was driving Robert’s Toyota Corolla, which the sheriff said Murray had driven back and forth between Florida and South Carolina.
Murray was arrested on April 13 and returned to St. Augustine two days later on charges of fleeing and attempting to elude law enforcement officers and on being a fugitive. He was being held without bond in the St. Johns County Jail on Tuesday.
Officials say Murray likely will face additional charges in Georgia, where Robert’s body was found.
“I’m sure he’s going to be charged in the very near future with first-degree murder,” Shoar said.
Sheriff’s officials in Burke County, Georgia, didn’t immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press early Tuesday.
Investigators believe Robert was killed April 10. He was reported missing April 12 after church officials became concerned when he missed an appointment.
Shoar called Murray a “career criminal.” He was released from the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on April 6 following a March 22 arrest for operating a vehicle with a suspended license.
Officials believe he may have met Robert as part of the priest’s outreach to recently released inmates and people who were out of work.
It’s not known whether Murray has an attorney.