ORLANDO, Fla. (FOX 35 ORLANDO) - The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has announced an arrest a little over one year after the body of a missing Florida teenager was discovered in Volusia County.
Robert Nixon Kern Jr., 40, faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Justis Garrett.
Garrett, 16, was reported missing out of Mount Dora on April 13, 2018. She was dropped off at school and did not return home. At the time, authorities thought she might be in the New Smyrna Beach area. A week later, detectives with the DeLand Police Department said her partially decomposed body was found in a wooded area about a quarter-mile off of Gasline Road, just east of Lake Winnemissett.
"This started as a missing person's investigation, and as such, these types of investigations generally begin with those closest to the missing person," said Lee Massie, a special agent in charge of the FDLE's Orlando Regional Operations Center. "Through extensive, extremely extensive, interviews of those who had contact and access to Justis, investigators were able to confirm that Kern was the last person to see Justis alive."
Massie said Kern and Justis knew each other, because the teen's mother and Kern were romantically involved, though he did not live at the family residence.
Authorities said Kern gave multiple inconsistent statements to law enforcement, as to his whereabouts on April 13, 2018. As a result of these inconsistencies, Kern became a primary suspect. Kern had recently been working odd jobs in Long Island, New York.
"We had no indication he was trying to hide from us," Massie added.
During a news conference before reporters on Friday, Massie noted that Kern actively handed out fliers while law enforcement officers were searching for the missing teen last year.
"For those who knew Justis Garrett, she has been described as a smart, caring and loving teenager," said Massie.
Kern was being extradited by airplane from Suffolk County, New York to Orlando, Florida. After arrival, he was expected to be be transported to the Volusia County Jail for booking.
"Once he arrives at the jail, we have investigators ready for him to see if he makes any statements," Massie explained.
No other suspects are being sought in the case, according to the FDLE, and Massie did not offer many details in this ongoing investigation.
"While this arrest marks an end to this phase of the investigation, it is not the end of the case. Please note that this is an active investigation, and we're going to let it work its way through the system, to find justice for Justis."