A Florida priest who went missing last week has been lauded by his diocese as a humble and generous servant after his remains were found in Georgia on April 18.
“He always saw the good in people he served reminding them that God created them for greatness with a good and noble purpose for others,” Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of St. Augustine said April 19.
“While his life was taken from us tragically on Sunday, April 10 — the day of his disappearance — it is important that we remember how he lived his life in selfless love for others,” the bishop said.
Fr. Rene Wayne Robert, 71, was last seen Sunday, April 10. Parishioners grew concerned when he didn’t show up for a funeral service. Police received a request for a welfare check on April 12. After they failed to locate the priest, a missing persons investigation was launched.
The priest’s remains were found April 18 after Steven Murray, 28, the suspect in the case, directed investigators to his body in a rural area south of Augusta, Georgia. Murray was arrested early April 14 after police spotted him in Fr. Robert’s car speeding through a construction zone and later crashed it into a tree in Aiken, South Carolina.
Police said that Murray had been recently released from prison and was receiving help from Fr. Robert.
Although Fr. Robert’s body was not formally identified by the morgue, Sheriff David Shoar of the St. John’s County confirmed that the priest clearly “was the victim of homicidal violence.” Murray will be charged in Georgia with first degree murder.
“My brother died doing what he loved: helping people,” Debbie Bedard, Fr. Robert’s sister told Action News Jacksonville. “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.”
Fr. Robert served as the chaplain at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He was known for his service in prisons and homeless ministries.
Bishop Estévez asked for prayers for Fr. Robert as well as the man who is believed to have taken his life.
“In this Year of Mercy, let us pray that our loving Lord will pour his merciful love upon the troubled soul of the one who took his life. And may Jesus Christ grant eternal rest to Father Rene and peace for his family and our community who suffer his loss, yet trust in the Good Shepherd’s care for all.”