Justice for Justis: Mother's boyfriend accused of killing 16-year-old girl, FDLE says

Robert Kern, 40, will face second-degree murder charges

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Days after 16-year-old Justis Garrett was reported missing from her Lake County home on April 14, 2018, a group of joggers found her body in a wooded area in DeLand. More than a year later, agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say they have arrested a 40-year-old man who previously had a relationship with Garrett's mother.

Garrett had moved to Mount Dora from New Smyrna Beach a couple of months prior to her disappearance and was on her way to Volusia County for a visit when she was last seen.

Five days passed before her body ​was found by a group of runners off Gasline Road. FDLE forensic and investigative teams determined on May 7, 2018, that the decomposed remains belonged to Garrett. Her death was declared a homicide on Aug. 6, 2018.

According to the FDLE timeline, agents worked from August 2018 to February 2019 reviewing phone records, social media posts and other information before arresting Robert Kern this month.

Kern told investigators he dropped Garrett off at Mount Dora High School on April 13, 2018 but FDLE agents said she was not at school that day.

Robert Kern, 40, is accused of killing 15-year-old Justis Garrett. (Image: FDLE/VCSO)

Investigators said Kern was the last person who saw Garrett alive and, at the time of her disappearance he was involved romantically with the teen's mother.

Investigators said Kern told them a variety of "stories" about he was the day the 16-year-old disappeared and said he handed out missing persons flyers before her body was found.

"He told us that he was in Volusia County doing a carpenter job," said FDLE Special Agent Alfonso Williams, adding that after that story fell apart, “He told us a number of other excuses for where he was at this time."

Kern was arrested on a Volusia County warrant in Suffolk County, New York, where he was working as a handyman, according to the FDLE.

On Friday afternoon, detectives with the Sheriff’s Office were escorting Kern from New York to Orlando to face a second-degree murder charge.

“This young lady did absolutely nothing wrong and did everything right in her life," FDLE Orlando Special Agent in Charge Lee Massie said.

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