ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. (NEWS10) – A Catholic priest with local ties is missing out of Florida, and foul play is suspected.
Father Rene Robert was active at churches in Troy and Waterford before moving to Florida. He still has family in Waterford. Friends and family describe Father Rene as a selfless person, and they now believe someone may have taken advantage of his kindness.
“I have visions of him laying in a ditch some place or locked in a closet,” his half-sister Joan McAndrews said.
Father Rene vanished from his St. Johns County, Florida home on Sunday. Now a desperate search is underway. McAndrews spoke to NEWS10 ABC over the phone from Cambridge, N.Y.
She’s expecting the worst.
“We know something’s wrong, and after this amount of time, to me, it doesn’t sound good,” she said.
A person of interest is in custody. Steven Murray, 28, was spotted driving Father Rene’s car two states away. On Thursday, he appeared nonchalant in a South Carolina courtroom facing extradition back to Florida.
McAndrews believes her brother’s giving nature may have led to his disappearance.
“He’s been giving money to people for a very long time, which he really doesn’t have,” she said.
Before moving to Florida, Father Rene was very active at St. Augustine’s Church in Troy and St. Mary’s in Waterford. When he moved south, he worked at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind where he formed a bond with Joseph Brzezowski, who was a student.
Brzezowski spoke to NEWS10 through a translator.
“I was a little bit of a troublemaker as a youngster, and he did some counseling and that’s how I met him, and we just made this connection,” he said.
Brzezowski also believes Father Rene’s commitment to helping others may have put him in a dangerous situation.
“It didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, black, white, he was just willing to help and serve,” he said.
Father Rene’s youngest sister is on her way to Florida to search for answers while the rest of his family in New York can only wait and pray.
“The one thing I could say right now if I could tell him one thing? I love you,” McAndrews said.
Murray has not, yet, been charged in connection with Father Rene’s disappearance. He has had several prior arrests, which could be how the two met, since Father Rene often counsels inmates.
Father Rene Robert was never a priest of the Diocese of Albany and has never served officially in any parishes here.