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Police Reveal New Details In The Murders Of Louisiana Priest, Pastoral Assistant
Police revealed in a press conference how they arrested Antonio Tyson before even finding the burned bodies of Father Otis Young and Ruth Prats.
Louisiana authorities provided new details about the investigation into the two bodies burned beyond recognition and discovered on Monday morning, which have since been identified as a priest and a pastoral assistant reported missing from the same city on Sunday night.
Officials confirmed at a Thursday press conference that the charred remains found Monday morning behind a local glass company in Covington, Louisiana belong to Father Otis Young, 71, and Ruth Prats. Prats had been listed as missing on Sunday night, while Young was determined to be missing early on Monday morning.
Police had already arrested Antonio Tyson, 49, in the case and charged him with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, obstruction of justice, refusal to provide correct identity and illegal possession of stolen vehicle.
But the investigation into Tyson began before anyone even knew Prats and Young were missing, police said on Thursday.
A caller reported a hit-and-run accident near the Tammany Trace Bike Trail and Bogue Falaya Towers Condominiums — less than half a mile east of where Young's and Prats' bodies would later be found — a dead-end intersection, at 7:11 p.m. on Sunday night. On an apparent cell phone video taken of the incident and shown at the press conference, a white Honda CRV is seen backing into a yellow pedestrian and bicycle caution sign. (Police said at the press conference that multiple signs were hit in the incident.)
Police determined that the vehicle belonged to Prats, but were unable to reach her. They then reached out to her family and met them at her home — less than a mile west of where her SUV was filmed. Family members pinged her cell phone and heard it ringing in a nearby dumpster.
A criminal investigation began, and both Prats and her vehicle were entered into the national missing persons database.
Prats' car was located at 3:43 a.m. in a 24-hour Walgreens parking lot half a mile from the site of the hit-and-run. Tyson and a white female passenger, who police determined was not Prats, were detained.
Following Tyson's detainment, officers learned that Prats had been with Young on Sunday afternoon, after which church officials checked his apartment. Young was not at home, either, and was determined to be a missing person.
The call about possible human remains in the glass company's parking lot — which is also located along the Tammany Trace Bike Trail — came in at 5:59 a.m.
St. Tammany Parish coroner, Charles Preston, said at the press conference that they were able to identify Young on Wednesday because of his recent coronary bypass surgery performed in a local hospital: The sternal wires used to close patients' chest cavities after such surgery are always placed by hand and form a unique pattern. His office was able to compare his post-surgery X-ray with one taken during autopsy and match the wires exactly.
His cause of death was blunt and sharp-force trauma, and the manner of death is listed as homicide.
It took authorities more time to identify Prats because they "didn't have the benefit of odontology," Preston explained. Instead, they used DNA from Prat's daughter to compare to DNA from the body. (He emphasized repeatedly that the use of an in-house DNA lab was crucial to making the identification in 26 hours.)
Her cause of death was blunt force trauma and her manner of death was homicide.
Covington police Lt. Kevin Collins told reporters that, after finding Tyson in Prats' vehicle, they were able to piece together a loose timeline of events via surveillance videos. Police have no evidence that Tyson knew either Prats or Young, and he had no apparent association with the St. Peter Church or the associated school.
"It appears random," Covington Police Chief Mike Ferrell said.
According to police, surveillance video from the St. Peter School — less than half a block from Prats' house — shows that a Black man rode by Prats' home on a bicycle at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, circled back and stopped to speak to Prat and Young briefly before cycling off again. Additional video shows him parking the bicycle at a nearby grocery store at 3:55 p.m.
At 4:09 p.m., surveillance video from the school allegedly shows the same man walking up to Prats' front door in a crouched position, holding what appears to be a knife behind his back, and entering the home.
Police added that the school's surveillance camera then captured Prat's vehicle backing out of her driveway at 5:14 p.m., turning around and backing into her driveway toward the back of the house — out of the view of the camera. The same man is seen leaving her home in her car at 6:26 p.m.
Her car is later seen entering the crime scene — reportedly the parking lot behind the glass company.
Police obtained additional security footage from the Covington area that they say shows Antonio Tyson behind the wheel of Prats' vehicle throughout Sunday evening, as well as the Monday morning before his arrest. One such video, they say, shows him filling a container with gas outside of her CRV.
Police are not releasing a motive in the case.
Young's funeral is scheduled for Monday at noon at St. Peter Church. Prats' arrangements have yet to be finalized.
Young was born in New Orleans but moved to Mississippi with his family as a child. He graduated from the University of New Orleans and worked as a certified public accountant for U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than 20 years before joining the priesthood, according to NOLA.com. He became a priest at age 49 and served at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in River Ridge, St. Louis King of France Church in Bucktown and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chasse before coming to St. Peter in 2012.
He retired from St. Peter in July, due to the effects of a 2020 heart attack and a subsequent stroke.
Prats grew up in Abita Springs, Louisiana and moved to Covington as an adult, where she became deeply involved in St. Peter and raised two daughters, according to NOLA.com. She is survived by her girls and eight grandchildren.
New Orleans Magazine columnist and former priest Peter Finney III — who served as an assistant priest at St. Peter from 2014 to 16 — wrote in a column after his friends' deaths that Prats had been asked to retire from paid work at the parish while Young was convalescing from his stroke, but saw it "as God’s gift to now be free to ferry Otis to doctor visits, parishioner appointments and sacramental duties."
"These were two victims who really were about the service of others," Finney told NOLA.com. "They had no money. They had nothing worth taking. But they were really, to their dying day, committed to [service.]"
Tyson was released from prison in August after serving 30 years for forcible rape, armed robbery and burglary. He broke into a Covington home on Dec. 7, 1991 with another man, hit the victim with a pistol, held a pillow over her face and raped her before stealing her car. He was arrested while driving the stolen vehicle.
He was reportedly working as a landscaper at the time of his arrest.