UPDATE| News conference scheduled for update on search for missing priest

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UPDATE: 9:45PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fl. (WRDW/WAGT) -- News conference with St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar on the search for a local priest who's been missing just over a week scheduled for 10:30PM April 18, 2016.

UPDATE: Monday, April 18, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fl. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A large-scale search for missing priest has come to a close with no sign of a man who has not been seen for about a week now.

Late Monday afternoon, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced the end of the search effort for Father Rene Robert on Jacksonville's westside.

According to a news release, people can call (904) 630-0500 or email JSCOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org if they have information about Father Robert's whereabouts. You could qualify for a reward up to $3,000.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fl. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office are doing a large scale search on the Westside of Jacksonville for Father Rene Robert.

Deputies are asking neighbors and property owners on certain streets to check their property, especially bodies of water, and wooded areas. They ask if people see any disturbed ground or unusual smells to contact deputies.

Investigators are also asking anyone with surveillance video of the area to review it and look for any suspicious activity from late Sunday night. They also are asking people to look for a car matching the 2012 blue Toyota Corolla on the video. They also ask if anyone saw the car late Sunday night to call investigators.

Father Rene Robert was last seen around 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

Investigators arrested Steven Murray in Aiken County early Thursday morning in connection to his disappearance. Murray was extradited back to Florida on Friday.



Friday, April 15, 2016

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Steven Murray has been extradited to Florida as the investigation continues.

From more than three hundred miles away, Commander Chuck Mulligan with the St. John's County Sheriff's Office is trying to find Father Rene Robert. The first step is talking to the suspect in the priest's disappearance, Steven Murray.

"He has at least spoken with us," Commander Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said, "Obviously part of our job now is to vet that information to determine what is usable or not or if there's anything within that conversation that doesn't ring true with what we're addressing."

Aiken County deputies arrested Murray early Thursday morning after a six hour manhunt. Now they've handed the case over to St. John's. The 300 mile distance in the investigation is difficult, so they are keeping their options open on how to move forward.

"I think everything is very, very fluid for us as this investigation goes forward and so at least one or two may remain there for a period of time," Mulligan said, "And if the timing becomes more prudent for us, they may return to St. Johns County."

The Sheriff's Office says the investigation relies on Murray going forward.

"One of the biggest pieces of this puzzle right now is Steven Murray and so if he's talking with us that's an upside for us, but again we have to vet the information that's provided and compare it and contrast it with what we know," Mulligan said.

But right now they are missing a lot of the puzzle pieces, so any and all tips are welcome.

"We do receive information from various sources," Mulligan said, "Nothing at this juncture has led us to be able to bring a conclusion to the whereabouts of the Father at this point in time."

Another big piece of the investigation is Father Robert's car, which is still being held in Aiken County. Mulligan says that either SLED or the St. John's Sheriff's Office will process the car.


UPDATE: 4/15/16 4:10 PM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office says Steven Murray, the man arrested in connection to a missing Florida priest, has been extradited back to Florida.

Deputies say Murray is no longer booked at the Aiken County Detention Center and he is on his way to Florida.

Murray was arrested early Thursday morning after a six hour manhunt. He is a suspect in the disappearance of Father Rene Robert from Florida.


UPDATE: 4/15/16 12:01 AM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- After SWAT teams, choppers and deputies spent more than six hours overnight searching, it all lead to an early-morning arrest caught on camera.

On Thursday afternoon, a handcuffed Steven Murray slowly walked into court with a grin from ear to ear.

The 28-year-old signed documents sending him back to St. John's County, Florida to face charges of aggravated fleeing and eluding police.

St. Johns Sheriff David Shoar hopes his arrest will help find missing Florida Priest, 71-year-old Rene Robert.

"Obviously the suspect's in custody, so we're doing everything we can to narrow down timelines and get the timelines down very narrow," Sheriff Shoar says. "And there's a lot of real estate between here and Aiken County, South Carolina."

Sheriff Shoar says a lot of ground to cover is what could make the investigation into finding Father Robert even tougher is Murray doesn't cooperate.

But while Sheriff Shoar says his crew hopes to make serious ground over the next 24 hours, he's also being realistic.

"All indications are [that] the ending of this," Sheriff Shoar says, "may not be what we all kind of hope and pray that it would be."

But he also says that's not going to stop him and his team from doing everything they can to help bring the case to a close. If not for his crew, the Sheriff says, then for Father Robert's family and friends back home.

As for Murray, Sheriff Shoar says he's glad to see him off the streets.

"He threatened to kill as many cops as he could," Sheriff Shoar says, "and when you're out in the middle of the woods like that, that's not a good position to be in."

Sheriff Shoar says there were multiple weapons in the abandoned Toyota that Murray ditched in the woods near Aiken County.

UPDATE: 4/14/16 3:45 PM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Steven Murray, the man arrested in connection to a missing Florida priest faced a judge for the first time Thursday afternoon.

A judge read Murray his charges which include aggravated fleeing or attempting, eluding at a high-speed, and high-speed reckless driving.

The judge told Murray investigators requested he sign the waiver of extradition so he could be picked up and brought back to Florida. Murray agreed to sign the extradition papers.

The judge told Murray he has twenty days for investigators to come and get him starting today.

In the court room, Murray smiled and waved to the News 12 NBC 26 camera.


UPDATE: 4/14/16 2:45 PM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- St. John's Sheriff David B. Shoar held a press conference at around 2:00 Thursday afternoon.

In the conference he said there Steven Murray is a suspect in a crime. He says there is evidence a crime was committed, but they are not sure what crime exactly happened at this time.

Sheriff Shoar also said they are not sure when Murray will be brought back to Florida. He said investigators are currently focusing on the timeline of what happened. He also said this has taken a lot of coordination because this case has gone through multiple jurisdictions.

In the press conference, the sheriff said having Murray in custody is a giant step forward for them. While he could not comment on if Murray is cooperating with deputies at this point, he said his family is. He also said Murray threatened to kill as many cops as he could, and that it was troubling to the sheriff that they found weapons in his car.

Sheriff Shoar said they hope to get some closure on what happened within the next 24 hours. Currently, two St. John's deputies are in Aiken working with Aiken County and Jacksonville deputies.

The sheriff also said they are not sure at this point if the counseling played a role in what happened. Investigators do know that Murray and Father Robert had not known each other for very long.

On a personal note, Sheriff Shoar also talked about Father Rene Robert. He said the priest baptized two of his nephews and one of his nieces as well. Father Robert is known for helping the less fortunate. He has an active prison missionary, worked actively with the deaf community, and he "was a true warrior for those who needed help." Further, the priest always wore sandals and had a gentle soul. “Maybe if we have more people like Father Rene then we wouldn’t have so much human suffering out there,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff also said the priest was seen on Sunday night, but would not say that was the last time he had been seen.

There is a vigil planned tonight in Fleming Island, Florida for Father Robert.

News 12 NBC 26 will continue to keep you updated on this story.



UPDATE: 4/14/16 11:47 AM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The man arrested in connection to a Florida priest's disappearance will see a judge for the first time Thursday afternoon.

Investigators say Steven Murray will have a bond hearing at 3:00 Thursday afternoon.

Deputies from the St. John's County Sheriff's Office are already in Aiken County to take over the investigation.

Murray was arrested early Thursday morning in connection to Father Rene Robert's disappearance.

Deputies say Father Robert's car is currently in storage at the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office is not a part of the investigation moving forward. St. John's County deputies will investigate the car. There is no further search in the woods.

News 12 NBC 26 will be in the court room. We will continue to keep you updated on this story.



UPDATE: 4/14/16 11:47 AM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Deputies with the St. John's County Sheriff's Office are in Aiken County helping with the investigation of a missing priest.

Investigators say Steven Murray, the man arrested early Thursday morning after a man hunt, was seeing Father Rene Robert for counseling.

Investigators say Murray grew up in the Augusta area, but has family in both Aiken County and Jacksonville, S.C. Arrest records show he attended Midland Valley High School.

Arrest reports show Murray had been arrested several times by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. In 2012 Murray was arrested in connection to a burglary. In 2013 Jacksonville deputies arrested Murray for an out of state warrant. Murray faced charges in 2015 and 2016 for failing to appear while on bail. He was most recently arrested on April 6, 2016 for driving with a suspended license.

Investigators say after his most recent arrest, a female who knew Murray referred him to contact Father Robert for help straightening out his life. They say the priest had counseled the female at some point in the past. Deputies say that counseling could include visiting, helping Murray with basic necessities such as food, and could even include Murray staying over with the Father.

Father Robert was last seen on Sunday afternoon. Deputies say they got a call from Father Robert's church Sunday when he did not show up for a church event.

On the St. John's County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, Sheriff David B. Shoar wrote this letter:

"A message from Sheriff Shoar regarding Father Rene Robert:

Dear Friends of Father Rene,

I realize these are difficult times for all of us who know Father Rene through his many years of dedicated service in our community. On a personal level, Laura and I have known Father Rene since he arrived here and he has performed weddings in our family and baptized some of the children in our extended family, a wonderful servant indeed.

I want to reassure you that from the moment we became aware of Father Rene dropping out of contact, we at the Sheriff’s Office have been working literally non-stop and will continue to do so until we achieve some form of closure.

I have assured our Bishop that we are employing every resource available during this investigation. This is a very complex case involving multiple jurisdictions, we will continue to provide you with any information available that we determine will not be detrimental to our investigation if released.

Because there is so much information about this case in the public domain, I urge all of you to only give credence to the information released by law enforcement sources. We are at a very delicate phase of our investigation and we must be very diligent and cautious to ensure a proper prosecution in the event that one is needed in the future.

Probably the best course of action for you now is to support each other, support our priests and sisters, pray for our law enforcement officers and most importantly, pray for our friend, Father Rene.

In the event that you would like to speak with me personally, my daytime phone number is (904) 810-6601, my home phone number is (904) 471-7214 and my e-mail is dshoar@sjso.org

Thank you and God bless each of you, your Sheriff David B. Shoar."


UPDATE: 4/14/16 12:37 AM

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office confirms the manhunt is over; they have arrested the suspect wanted in connection to a 71-year-old missing priest out of St. Augustine, Florida.

The U.S. Marshal's Office received a tip that Steven Murray, 28, was near Bacon Road and Wire Road around 4 PM. After deputies say he led them on a high-speed chase, they tell us he ditched the car and started to run. Deputies finally caught up with him around 12:45 AM on Nautilus Street and Crabtree Street off Snipes Pond Road.

A witness tells us Murray was laughing and making jokes when he was arrested. Investigators had warned he was likely armed, but we're told he did not have a weapon on him when he was arrested. A witness tells us he did not put up a fight and was arrested peacefully. That same witness said he told deputies he was keeping his own rifle close to protect himself and his family once he learned Murray, who was considered dangerous, was hiding out in the woods.

Murray isn't a stranger to local law enforcement. News 12-NBC 26 has learned he's been arrested at least eight times in Aiken County. His arrest record goes as far back as 2005 for a variety of charges including grand larceny and unlawful possession of a firearm. Currently, he's in jail on a hold for the St. John's County Sheriff's Office for Aggravated Fleeing/Eluding. He's also listed as a person of interest in the case of the missing priest. No word yet what additional charges he could also face.

According to the Associated Press, Father Rene Robert might have been counseling Murray. He was last seen Sunday afternoon. Deputies say they got a call from Father Robert's church Sunday when he did not show up for a church event.


UPDATE: 11:45PM
AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office confirms they have recovered multiple weapons inside a car belonging to a 71-year-old missing priest out of St. Augustine, Florida.
Deputies say Rene Robert's car was involved in a high speed chase last night, driven by Steven Murray. They tell us Murray lost police and eventually crashed, abandoning the blue Toyota with Florida tags.

Crews have scaled back the search for the night, but SWAT teams and other deputies are still on the scene still looking for him. The perimeter set up between Wire Road, Snipes Pond, and Kedron Church has also been relaxed and the helicopter has left. A more intense search will resume at sunrise.


UPDATE: 10:20PM
AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) --The Aiken County Sheriff's Office confirms they have recovered a car belonging to a 71-year-old missing priest out of St. Augustine, Florida.

Deputies say Rene Robert's car was involved in a high speed chase last night, driven by Steven Murray. The Saint John's Sheriff's office says Murray lost police and ditched the blue Toyota with Florida tags.

Crews are still actively searching for Murray with the help of a bloodhound and SWAT team, as well as a helicopter. A perimeter has been set up between Wire Road, Snipes Pond, and Kedron Church.

Murray should be considered armed and dangerous. He is described as a white male, 5'9", approximately 170-180 lbs, wearing a white t-shirt and blue shorts.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office is searching for a man on Bacon Road and Overlook Court.

Deputies say Steven Murray, 28, is wanted by the St. John's County Sheriff's Office in Florida for Aggravated Fleeing/Eluding and is also a person of interest in the case of a missing priest in the Jacksonville, Florida area at a church in St. Augestine. Around 4 p.m., U.S. Marshals received a tip that Murray was in the Bacon Road area, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office says. A bloodhound and swat team began tracking Murray and spotted him in a car in the woods around 5:20 p.m. He then fled in the car, where he had a collision in the woods and then ran on foot before they could catch him, investigators say.

Our crew on scene says a helicopter is on the scene of that search as well.

Investigators consider him armed and dangerous.