Father Jesse Euresti of East Austin has been missing in Nuevo …
Updated: Wednesday, 08 Apr 2009, 12:34 PM CDT
Published : Saturday, 04 Apr 2009, 11:08 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN/KGNS) - A Nuevo Laredo man said Tuesday he killed Austin priest Jesse Euresti in an apparent act of self-defense during an argument.
Manuel Martin Torres-Saldana, who had been living in the priest's Nuevo Laredo house, told reporters and officials he stabbed Euresti after the preist threatened him with a machete after Torres-Saldana refused to leave the home without money.
The two had been romantically involved for a year and four months, Torres-Saldana said, but the priest confronted him last week and told him to leave because his drug use was negatively affecting their relationship.
The priest threatened to "replace" him with someone else and refused Torres-Saldana's request for money to help him live, the suspect said.
"I told him, 'Well, give me at least $10,000 or $15,000, and I'll leave,'" Torres-Saldana said. "I was already trying to smooth things out. (I told him) 'The thing is, you really don't want anything to do with me and you're going to throw me out just like that, you know. Give me some money so that I can at least have a way to survive.'"
Police in Nuevo Laredo, who flanked the suspect during an afternoon news conference across the border from Laredo, Texas, did not comment on Torres-Saldana's story as he spoke to the media.
Euresti had bought the house in Nuevo Laredo about four months ago and had been planning to retire there. The family have described Torres-Saldana as a caretaker of the home, and church members said Tuesday afternoon that they didn't know any details about the relationship between the men.
Torres-Saldana was arrested Monday, nearly a week after Euresti was reported missing in Nuevo Laredo. His body was found dumped on a highway near the border city over the weekend.
Authorities said they captured Torres-Saldana on Monday in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, before bringing him back to Nuevo Laredo. The caretaker had been sought for questioning after police found blood all over the inside of Fr. Euresti's house, and Euresti's mattress was also missing.
Police had also recovered the caretaker's car with blood inside it, the family said.
Family members identified the body of Fr. Euresti Sunday night after authorities in Nuevo Laredo found his remains on the nearby highway Anahuac Highway outside downtown Nuevo Laredo, just off the road in an area that authorities said is a frequent dumping ground for homicide victims. The highway leads northwest out of Nuevo Laredo through the state of Nuevo Leon, into the more barren parts of the Texas-Mexico borderlands.
Mexican authorities released the remains to Fr. Euresti's family in Nuevo Laredo, and Mission Funeral Home in Austin drove down Monday afternoon to transport the body back to Austin. Seeking closure, family members said they wanted Fr. Euresti back in Austin as soon as possible to give him the proper burial.
Fr. Euresti led Cristo Rey Parish, and it will hold a rosary prayer service Tuesday at 7 p.m. before the priest's funeral Wednesday at 7 p.m. In a private service with family and friends, Fr. Euresti will be buried at Assumption Cemetery in South Austin at 9 a.m. Thursday.
"My prayers are that Father is at peace, that he is not hurting anymore and that he can forgive the person that did this to him," said Fr. Euresti's niece, Beatrice Rios.
Meanwhile, details are sketchy on the caretaker's involvement, who police and family members said had been in touch with both groups over the weekend.
Fr. Euresti's sister, Rachel Rios, said Torres-Saldana called her Saturday evening and said the missing priest was dead. Rios said Torres-Saldana also denied killing the priest but said he would tell Rios where Fr. Euresti's body was if she wired him $3,000.
The investigation had become international, with local and federal authorities on both sides of the border - including the FBI and county officials in Laredo - involved in the search for answers. The priest had purchased his home in Mexico about four months ago and was planning on retiring in Nuevo Laredo in July.
KXAN Austin News at 10 p.m. Sunday regarding missing priest case
Fr. Euresti led Cristo Rey Parish since 2006. His congregation had been holding continual vigils at the parish, located at Second and Robert Martinez Jr. streets, all week long.
During a press conference Monday morning, Bishop Gregory Aymond made many statements regarding the case and the church's response to the devastating news.
"It's strange and sad, that a man who gives his life for the cause of God's peace and goodness and proclaiming the gospel of love, that he would be targeted for whatever reason," said Aymond. "Whatever the motive, that he would be targeted and murdered is very distressing. It's very sad for us and for me today as I stand before [you]."
Bishop Aymond said Fr. Euresti's death hit the parish community hard, saying parishioners saw the priest transform into the man he became.
"I'm sure there is a great feeling of grief, but I would also guess that for many of us, there is also a feeling of anger toward the person who took his life." said Aymond. "In Cristo Rey Parish, there were people who literally saw him grow up and saw him serve in many other parishes, and he came back to his home parish, where many of his family members still live. So for them, it is devastating, it is heart-wrenching and I would bet [there] is some anger."
One church member, Elisa Rendon Montoya, talked about her emotions through this entire ordeal:
KGNS Pro8 News in Laredo contributed to this report.