NEW YORK – Ruth Prats, a pastoral associate at St. Peter Church in Covington, La., has been identified as the second victim in a double homicide that has shaken the community, the local coroner’s office announced on Dec. 1.
Father Otis Young, a retired priest of the parish, was identified as the other victim on Nov. 30. The current pastor of St. Peter parish remembered them as two people who gave all of “themselves in service to the people of God.”
“Father Otis is a beloved pastor who served God and his people with a pastor’s heart until his death,” Father Daniel Brouillette said at a Dec. 1 news conference. “Ruth, a dedicated and valued associate, dedicated her life to helping the people of St. Peter parish grew in their relationship with God.”
“So as we grieve for Father Otis and Ruth, and we pray for the repose of their souls, let us turn to our Lord Jesus for comfort,” he continued. “It is my prayer that their families and all of us may all know God’s love and hope and find peace during this time of mourning.”
Prats’ cause of death was blunt force trauma, classified as a homicide, the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office announced. Young’s cause of death, announced Nov. 30 by the coroner’s office, was blunt and sharp force trauma, also classified as a homicide.
Prats and Young were reported missing on Nov. 27. The next morning, two burnt bodies were discovered behind a glass store in downtown Covington, about a half-mile from St. Peter Church. Those bodies are now confirmed to be Prats and Young.
Antonio Donde Tyson, 49, remains in custody in connection with the murders. He was arrested earlier this week and charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of second degree kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of illegal possession of stolen things, and one count of resisting an officer by giving a false name.
Lieutenant Kevin Collins, who leads the Covington Police Department investigation unit, emphasized at Thursday’s news conference that additional charges for Tyson may be forthcoming, and that the investigation remains ongoing.
At this point details about how the crime unfolded are still being investigated, and certain details are being kept under wraps by the police department.
Collins declined to release any information the department has about a possible motive. He said they know where the bodies were burned, but declined to say where, and he couldn’t release any information about where Prats and Young were killed, either. The lieutenant acknowledged, however, that the department has evidence in its possession that would help them determine how they were killed, but an estimated time of death remains unknown.
Collins said that he couldn’t comment on why the bodies were in the area where they were found, but added it doesn’t appear Tyson has any relation to the area.
There is also no evidence or proof that would suggest that Tyson has any association with St. Peter Church and the parish school, or that he knew Prats, or Young, he said. Michael Ferrell, Covington Police Chief, said that the crime “appears random,” in response to a question about whether or not Prats and Young were targeted.
Tyson was released from Rayburn Correctional Facility in Louisiana about three months ago after serving 30 years of a 40-year sentence for being convicted of forcible rape, armed robbery, and one count of burglary. Asked by a reporter if Tyson was on Covington Police Department’s radar as a recent parolee, Collins replied, “No.”
Later in the news conference, Brouillette spoke specifically about Prats, highlighting her decades of service to the parish and community, who served multiple pastors and was “loved”.
“Because of her longevity at St. Peter, and her kind and loving heart, she was so well known and loved and sought after as someone to be associated with the parish and someone with our community,” Brouillette said, adding that both Prats and Young were “very much loved, and incredibly dedicated.”
During the news conference local political leaders spoke about the tragedy, and what Prats and Young meant to the Covington community. Covington Mayor Mark Johnson called them “two pillars of the community” who are “wonderful people.”
“We will mourn. We will grieve. We will overcome. Through our faith we will persevere,” he said.
Michael Cooper, St. Tammany Parish Government president and a lifelong parishioner of St. Peter Catholic Church, said “this is a time for prayer in the community.”
“I ask our citizens to keep the families, to keep friends of Father Otis and St. Peter Church and the friends and family of Ms. Ruth Prats as well, as we endure the coming days, weeks, and months with this brutal tragedy that happened in our community.”
A funeral Mass will be celebrated for Young on Monday, Dec. 5 at St. Peter Catholic Church. Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans will be the celebrant. The date and time for Prats’ funeral is not yet finalized, Brouillette said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg