Man accused of killing 16-year-old from Lake County in 2018 now faces first-degree murder charge

Robert Kern, 40, was arrested in May 2019

Robert Kern, 40, was arrested in May 2019 . (Volusia County Sheriff's Office)

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – A man accused of killing a 16-year-old girl from Lake County back in April 2018 is now facing a first-degree murder charge, according to an indictment filed Monday at the Volusia County Clerk of Courts.

Robert Kern, 40, was arrested in May 2019 in connection with the murder of Justis Garrett, whose body was found in a wooded area in DeLand by a group of joggers about a year prior to his arrest. He originally was charged with second-degree murder but his charges were upgraded.

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Garrett was reported missing from her Lake County home five days before the joggers found her off Gasline Road.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement forensic and investigative teams determined on May 7, 2018, the decomposed remains belonged to Garrett. Her death was declared a homicide on Aug. 6, 2018.

Agents said they arrested Kern in May 2019 after reviewing phone records, social media posts and other information between August 2018 and February 2019.

According to investigators, Kern previously had a relationship with Garrett’s mother and had told them he dropped off Garrett at Mount Dora High School on April 13, 2018, but she was not reported at school that day.

Investigators later learned 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.

Kern was arrested on a Volusia County warrant in Suffolk County, New York, back in May 2019, where he was working as a handyman, according to the FDLE.

He is now facing multiple charges, including first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and uttering a forgery.