Father Jesse Euresti of Cristo Rey Catholic Church in East …
Updated: Tuesday, 07 Apr 2009, 12:41 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 02 Apr 2009, 5:01 PM CDT
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (KXAN) - Mexican authorities are inching closer to some answers in the case of Father Jesse Euresti, an Austin priest whom they believe may have been murdered in his Nuevo Laredo home.
Police in that Mexican border city have been "in touch" with the home's caretaker, Manuel Martin, a potential witness or suspect, sources said. It was unclear if police knew Martin's whereabouts or whether they had spoken directly with him.
They still hadn't found Euresti, who has been missing since Tuesday and who heads the East Austin Cristo Rey Catholic Church.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also involved, sources confirmed late Thursday.
Sources also say a young pregnant woman had been staying in the home and hasn't been seen in several weeks. Authorities are searching for her as well, but there was no more information on whether they believe she or her disappearance are connected to the case.
"He's never done anything to anybody but help people in this world," nephew Pete Rios said.
Meanwhile, members of his Austin parish are holding daily Mass to pray for his safe return - although the scene in the city just across the border from Laredo, Tx., looked grim when family members and police arrived there Wednesday.
Mexican authorities appear to have stepped up their investigation, family members say, after international attention has been focused on it - from the Catholic diocese in Texas and in Mexico to consulates and news media on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.
"The way things look, it doesn't look good," Richard Euresti said. "We want to know what happened. Everyone does."
Neighbors and family members kept vigil outside the home on Calle Guerrero, in an upscale neighborhood. And although an apparent resolution in the drug war in Nuevo Laredo has meant a huge drop in cartel-related violence - with murders down 75 percent from 2006 - this incident has locals nervous.
The area still isn't entirely free from crime, they say, and answers are still hard to come by in the priest's case.
"Whatever happened here was violent, and he didn't deserve that," said Euresti's nephew, Manuel Rios.
As the word spread to the 1,600 families that FAther Euresti served at his church, more and more people are attending the daily masses.
Despite the details they've heard so far about the disturbing scene in Mexico, members of the congregation are not giving up hope.
"Today, we're really here to pray that Father Jesse is safe, that he's OK," said Sophie Llanas, parishioner
The service was especially hard for Elizabeth Verastegui, who has known the native Austinite for decades.
"He's a good person, you know, because I've known him since he was young, and my tears are just for being sad for him," she said.
The desire to know what happened to Father Jesse Euresti is getting more difficult to bear.
"It's harder because they don't have any new of anything yet," said parishioner Sophie Llanas. Below are scenes from the vigil at the church:
Like any church, Cristo Rey has dealt with tough times before.
In July of 2007, KXAN Austin News reported on unrest within the church. Some members left the congregation over concerns that Euresti was too forceful and would lash out at members.
The Diocese of Austin says the parish resolved the conflict, and members say Euresti has attracted many new members since then.
"Everytime he greeted us, he greeted us very nice," said Llanas. ""We were able to enrich our beliefs more with his being here."
Together, this church family holding out hope for his safe return.
Back in Nuevo Laredo, some 230 miles south of Austin and just across the border from Laredo, police clamped down on the crime scene and forbid the family from talking any more about the case.
They have not named Martin, the caretaker, as a suspect - so far they only want to question him - but family members are wary of his involvement.
They say they didn't trust the caretaker and hope police can find him to answer questions about the disappearance.
"I'm hoping I get to take my uncle home," Manuel Rios said. "I'm hoping they catch the guy, but the main thing is I want to take my uncle home."
Euresti, 69, was last heard from around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, telling family members he had arrived. But later in the day, a friend reported that the priest was missing after stopping by the house and noticing the alarm was off and the garage door was open.
"So, we know something happened," said Manuel Rios. "They took him away, you can tell they dragged his body."
The Catholic community is extremely disturbed by the news.
"We are shocked by this information," said Bishop Gregory Aymond, bishop of the Diocese of Austin. "We do not know whether he is missing or has been killed. Please remember Father Euresti, his family and parishioners in prayer."
The Cristo Rey Catholic Church said it will offer prayers for Euresti every day at its noon and 6 p.m. mass celebrations until something further develops surrounding the priest's disappearance.
Euresti's family members said he bought the house in the gated Nuevo Laredo community just four months ago, with plans to retire there. He was born and raised in Austin and graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1957. His family and friends warned him against retiring there.
"We kept telling him 'Why buy, why not stay here,' but I guess it was something he wanted to do," said Josephine Juarez, a parishioner.
"He's been there for all of us," said family friend Mary Lou Ortega, speaking from Father Jesse's home. "He loved Mexico. This is what he wanted."
Relatives said Euresti would go to his Nuevo Laredo home on Calle Guerrero every week for a couple days before returning to run the Cristo Rey Catholic Church.
Euresti has been a leader at the church since 2006. Some parishoners remember first meeting him at the church 50 years ago when he was a teenager in seminary school and lived around the corner from the church.
"I was just an altar boy," said Luis Zavala. "He worked with the community here." Zavala joined hundreds of others at the church Wednesday to sing and pray together.
Euresti has been a priest since 1965, serving in area communities for decades, including parishes in Waco, Luling, Lockhart and Cameron. Euresti also served as a chaplain in the United States Air Force.
Euresti's family is working with the U.S. Consulate to locate him. The local police department in Nuevo Laredo, as well as the offices of U.S. and Mexican consulates, confirmed an ongoing investigation into the priest's disappearance.
"My uncle could just disappear there...that's possible, it's happening everyday there," said Beatrice Rios, his niece.
Euresti was born and raised in Austin but loves Mexico, his family said. He shrugged off his family's fears for his safety when he decided to live there.
"We were all telling him, 'Please don't do that,' but my uncle had been to Mexico many times. He loves Mexico," his nephew Rios said.
Nuevo Laredo is a city of about 500,000 people.
KXAN Staff Writer Jackie Vega contributed to this report.