It wasn’t like Fr. Rene Robert to miss a funeral service like the one he was supposed to attend on April 12, 2016.
After Fr. Rene failed to answer subsequent calls to his cellphone, his friends reported him missing, setting into motion a frantic search that led investigators to suspect the worst.
Described as a “living saint,” Fr. Rene Robert was a beloved figure in the tight-knit community of St. Augustine, Florida—a humble Catholic priest with a special place in his heart for people cast aside by the rest of society.
Police suspected foul play early on in Fr. Rene’s disappearance, and the local sheriff put some of his best detectives on the case to help find his missing friend.
Days later, 28-year-old Steven Murray was spotted driving the priest’s blue Toyota Corolla.
When police eventually captured Murray, he led investigators to Fr. Rene’s body after admitting that he had kidnapped the priest in Jacksonville, FL, and drove him against his will to South Carolina.
Murray claimed to have forced Fr. Rene into the trunk of the car at some point during the ordeal. Hours later, he drove down a remote logging trail in rural Georgia, let Fr. Rene out of the trunk, and shot him to death at the edge of a forest.
Those who knew and loved Fr. Rene were horrified that such a peaceful man could have met such a violent death.
The tragic news sent shockwaves through the St. Augustine community and beyond. The only consolation for those who had been praying for Fr. Rene, it seemed, was that Steven Murray's confession answered some of the questions surrounding the beloved priest's disappearance, namely the who, what, where, and how.
But no one, not even Steven himself, could answer the biggest question:
Prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty in the murder case. Many people—including many of Fr. Rene’s heartbroken family and friends—felt that Murray deserved nothing less than execution for committing such a heinous crime.
But then came a voice from beyond the grave… the voice of Fr. Rene himself.
The secretary at the bishop’s office was going through Fr. Rene’s old files when she stumbled upon a document titled DECLARATION OF LIFE which Fr. Rene had signed in 1995—more than 20 years earlier. The document read in part:
It was as if Fr. Rene had foreseen the circumstances of his own death. The bishop immediately sent the letter to the prosecutor’s office and urged them to reconsider their pursuit of the death penalty in the case…
But would anyone listen?
Stella Mar Films has been following this story as it unfolds, and we're hard at work making a feature-length docu-drama about it called Where There Is Darkness. Visit the film's official website here.
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