Florida priest missing; man arrested in South Carolina after chase

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SOUTH CAROLINA – Police continued to search areas in and near Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday for any signs of a priest who has been missing for a week.

Meanwhile, authorities are talking with a man who is in custody in Florida after leading police two states away on a high-speed chase in the missing 71-year-old cleric’s car.

Florida authorities are asking residents to search wooded areas in their neighborhoods for signs of a priest who vanished a week ago. Father Rene Robert of St. Augustine, Florida, was last seen on April 10, 2016.

The priest, Father Rene Robert, was last seen on Sunday, April 10. Six days dater, on Saturday, the priest’s 2012 Toyota Corolla was spotted near Aiken, South Carolina, and chased by authorities there before the driver ditched the car and ran into woods, where he was soon captured.

The man authorities arrested is Steven James Murray, according to the St. Johns County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office.

Murray, who was charged with fleeing and attempting to evade, lives in South Carolina but has family in Florida and knows the missing priest, said Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan of the St. John’s Sheriff’s Office.

“We have accounts that Murray was in Father Robert’s presence for several days prior to his disappearance … we believe Murray took advantage of his kindness,” Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan told CNN.

Murray, 28, is not charged in the 71-year-old priest’s disappearance and is talking with authorities, Mulligan said.

Church officials had notified the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office after Father Robert missed a scheduled funeral last Sunday, which they say is unlike him.

No one has heard from him since, police said.

On Sunday, searchers were combing through an area of Duval County, adjacent to St. John’s County. Authorities called on area residents to search their own backyards, including creeks and ditches.

“Check … property thoroughly, including wooded areas and around bodies of water,” the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said in a weekend statement.

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