A former youth pastor and mental health counselor was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with killing and dismembering a 16-year-old boy in his Jacksonville Beach bathroom in 1994.
According to the arrest warrant, Ronnie Hyde killed Fred Laster and dumped his headless and handless torso into a Lake City dumpster in a case that has remained unsolved for more than 22 years.
At a press conference Tuesday, state and federal investigators hailed the resolution of the cold case. “This is a reminder that justice has no expiration date,” State Attorney Melissa Nelson said.
But documents released late Tuesday show the boy’s family had identified Hyde as a likely suspect from the earliest days of Laster’s disappearance.
According to a summary of a missing person investigation included in the warrant, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office responded to a call from Laster’s sibling in February 1995, to take a report about his disappearance. That report noted that the family had previously tried to report his absence to two different law enforcement agencies – both in Nassau County, where the family lived, and in Duval County. They “were unable to report him missing,” the 2017 warrant notes. “There is no record of their contact with law enforcement in July 1994.”
Even after the 1995 report was submitted, there is no indication police contacted Hyde or followed up on the family’s suspicions – which were significant. For one, Hyde was the last person to see the teen. They played in a church band together and Hyde was the family’s youth pastor. For another, when the family asked Hyde where the boy was, he allegedly gave a series of conflicting stories.
According to the warrant, the teen’s torso was found in a dumpster with a red flannel shirt and bloody bath decals, which police now believe came from Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach bathtub. Pictures of those decals and the shirt were posted to a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website in 2015. That posting, for an unidentified homicide victim from 1994, caught the attention of the teen’s family, who again contacted law enforcement.
By February of 2016, a DNA lab had confirmed the dumpster remains were Laster’s. And in April 2016, police say, they were able to pull Hyde’s DNA from a Zicam nasal swab in his trash, and match it to DNA on the flannel shirt.
Hyde is currently in the Duval County Jail charged with murder. He is expected in court tomorrow at 1 p.m.
The family has released a statement:
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has been asked by Fred Paul Laster’s immediate family to distribute this statement on their behalf:
“We, the immediate family of Fred Paul Laster, have gathered together at this time to support each other as we experience the intense emotions caused by the heartbreaking loss of “Freddy” and the arrest of his killer.
“We appreciate the thoughts and prayers of the community, and wish to thank our law enforcement personnel and support agencies for their diligence and perseverance in this case.
“Although some extended family has chosen to make statements to the media, we, his father and siblings, decline to be interviewed at this time. We request privacy as we grieve and focus on laying Freddy to rest. Thank you for your understanding.”
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