BALDWIN — About 100 Jacksonville police and St. Johns County sheriff's deputies launched a large-scale search Saturday in hopes of finding a 71-year-old St. Augustine priest who disappeared a week ago.
A cellphone ping, police said, led authorities to focus the search for the Rev. Rene Wayne Robert in the community of about 1,500 residents.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced the search area Saturday morning within hours after Steven James Murray was booked into the St. Johns County Jail after being arrested late Wednesday in Aiken, S.C.
"It makes you nervous because it's right in our back yard," said Kelly King, who's lived in Baldwin about 17 years. Nothing like this has happened there before, she said.
Murray, 28, of Jacksonville was being held without bail on charges of fleeing and attempting to elude law and being a fugitive. Murray, a recently released inmate whom Robert was counseling, was captured in Aiken after a manhunt and police chase that ended late Wednesday night when Murray crashed Robert's car into a tree. Murray, who then fled on foot, was arrested when officers using bloodhounds and a helicopter tracked him down. Several firearms including a rifle equipped with a scope were found inside the apparently stolen car, law enforcement officials have said.
Murray apparently met the priest as part of Robert's outreach to individuals, including those who were out of work or just out of jail. Murray had been released from the Duval County jail April 6 following a March 22 arrest for operating a vehicle with a suspended license and failure to appear, records show.
Robert was reported missing Tuesday when church officials were concerned that he uncharacteristically missed an appointment. Robert's Facebook page said he was visiting a patient at 1 p.m. Sunday at Orange Park Medical Center, then had brunch with friends after going to Mass with them at St. Edward's Catholic Chapel at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.