Body of missing Chicago pastor found in his car in Des Plaines River in Rockdale

Crews from several Joliet area police and fire departments were at the scene of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam along the Des Plaines River Tuesday afternoon July 9, 2024. The Rockdale Fire Protection District was dispatched about 11:04 a.m. on Tuesday for a reported vehicle that had entered the Des Plaines River on the night of July 2, around 10:47 p.m.

The search for a missing Chicago pastor came to a tragic conclusion on Tuesday when his body was found inside of a vehicle about 250 feet from the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Rockdale.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Will County Coroner Laurie Summers said Warren Beard, 53, who was was last seen July 2 in Joliet, was identified by his family as the body in the driver’s seat of the vehicle recovered from the Des Plaines River.

Beard was an assistant pastor at New Israelite Baptist Church in Chicago.

The news had left Beard’s supporters, friends and family in tears. They were inside a room at the Rockdale Fire Protection District where the news conference was held.

Authorities have not said there’s been any indication of foul play.

But Chenier Alston, senior pastor of New Israelite Baptist Church, said he believes someone was responsible for Beard’s death.

“I know his character and I know he’s not going to take his life. He was life, he was full of life, he was passionate about life, he loved life, he loved his children,” Alston said.

Chenier Alston, senior pastor of New Israelite Baptist Church, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, July 9, in Rockdale.

Alston said Beard was not suicidal, hostile or violent. Beard was a man who “loved his wife, loved his children, loved his family,” he said.

“A man who loved God with everything in him. A man who was passionate about his faith,” Alston said.

Alston said it would be “totally out of character” for Beard to abandon his family.

The Chicago Police Department has been leading the investigation into Beard’s disappearance. Illinois State Police are also conducting an investigation of the incident that led to Beard’s vehicle to plunge into the Des Plaines River.

Rockdale Deputy Police Chief Robert Baikie said his department was contacted Tuesday to assist Chicago police detectives in the search for Beard as his vehicle was flagged by Flock Safety cameras that track license plates in Rockdale.

Emergency vehicles line the roadway by the bridge over the Des Plaines River at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Rockdale on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.  Crews from several Will County fire and police departments were there searching the area and river for a vehicle that went into the river reportedly on July 2, 2024.or pictures

Baikie said they advised Chicago police detectives to check out the Brandon Lock and Dam area. A bridge tender reviewed surveillance video after speaking with detectives and discovered a vehicle had gone into the river, he said.

The video depicted the incident at 10:47 p.m. on July 2, which is the same day Beard was last seen in the 400 block of North Broadway Street in Joliet.

“[The vehicle] went under the bridge into the river,” Baikie said.

The Brandon Road bridge has been up for a year and a half and the roadway has been closed during that time, said John Petrakis, chief of the Channahon Fire Protection District.

The vehicle went around a barricade and it was apparently small enough to go under the Brandon Road Bridge, Baikie said.

“We wouldn’t have believed it ourselves if we hadn’t seen it on video,” Baikie said.

Alston said Beard’s family, friends and supporters know how “passionate he was about his job, his wife, [and] his children.”

“We want answers and whatever those answers we’re going to get justice for him. We’re going to get justice for him,” Alston said.

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