A handyman is accused of using a Catholic priest's own gun to kill him at a beachfront house in Mississippi, then taking his ex-wife and kids on a Disney World vacation in the dead cleric's car, authorities said. They had bought three-day passes to the theme park and were preparing to make an early start Tuesday when the suspect was arrested.
Jeremy Wayne Manieri was taken into custody without incident about 6 a.m. at a hotel in Polk County, Fla., after police tracked the priest's stolen car using its anti-theft device, Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Jon Kalahar said. Manieri will be charged with murder once he's brought back to Waveland, Miss.
Police said the man's ex-wife did not know the car was stolen or how her husband got it and she was not expected to face charges.
The Rev. Edward E. Everitt, 70, had gone to the Waveland house as part of his typical routine after Sunday Mass, a colleague said. The house is owned by several priests who use it as a weekend retreat, and Manieri did odd jobs for them.
Police believe the handyman had intended to rob Everitt. The priest's body was found by a caretaker Monday.
"When she entered she found the man on the couch in the front room and he was bleeding from the mouth so she backed out and called the police," Waveland Police Chief James Varnell said.
After the killing, Manieri took the priest's silver Chevy HHR, picked up his ex-wife and kids and headed for a motel in in Mobile, Ala., said Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Fla. They drove to a Days Inn in Polk County on Monday evening and bought Disney passes with the priest's cash, Judd said. Manieri had his ex-wife, his 10-year-old stepson and his 5-year-old daughter with him when he was arrested.
Manieri was walking out of room 209 to have a cigarette when the police assault team descended on him. Judd said Everitt's .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol was found in the stolen car by Polk County deputies. Deputies also found a wallet in the hotel room and said that the suspect allegedly thought he had cleaned it out, but there was a card with the priest's name on it inside.
"He left a trail of evidence that a blind man could have followed," Judd said.
Authorities did not know whether Manieri has an attorney. He's being held on auto theft warrant from Escambia County, Fla.
The 31-year-old is a registered sex offender with a long criminal record, including a 2006 conviction on the charge of touching a child or a mentally defective, incapacitated or physically helpless person for lustful purposes, according to the Mississippi's sex offender registry.
Everitt was a pastor at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, La., and Our Lady of Pompeii Church in nearby Tickfaw. The church is a member of the Dominican Order and also operates a school in the community about 50 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Father David Caron, the vicar provincial for the Dominican Order in the South, said Sunday was Everitt's day off and he typically went there on Sundays. Everitt, a native of Houston, has been with the order since 1962 and a priest since 1968.
"He's a really good preacher, he has the ability of draw out the best in people," Caron said.
He said the Dominican community in Hammond was hurt: "It is a close-knit community, and supportive of each other. People are coming together to take care of each other."
Caron said a service to honor and remember Everitt was scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Hammond church. He said funeral arrangements were pending and Caron's body had not yet been released by police.
As a religious order, Dominicans do not fall under the system of Catholic dioceses and archdioceses but instead under a system of provinces under the direction of a master of the order in Rome, Caron said.
Bishop Robert Muench of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said Everitt would be missed.
"This tragic loss of Father Ed's life leaves a deeply-felt void in all our lives," Muench said in a statement. "Together we pray to the Author of all life to provide Father Ed with the peace of eternal life. May our grief be seen in that perspective as we thank God for his valued life and priestly ministry."
Mohr reported from Jackson, Miss. Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Miss., and Mary Foster and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this report.