The disappearance of four young men last week has touched off an extensive criminal investigation in a picturesque rural area outside of Philadelphia in one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest counties.
Authorities from several local and state law enforcement agencies — along with the FBI — are focusing search efforts on a sprawling farm in Bucks County, about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.
The Bucks County District Attorney said in a news conference Monday that foul play is suspected in the disappearances, and that leads are “incredibly hot.”
The first to go missing, Jimi Tara Patrick, 19, was last seen on Wednesday. Then, on Friday, Mark Sturgis, 22, Tom Meo, 21, and Dean Finocchiaro, 18, also vanished. Some or all of the missing men appear to know each other, authorities say. Two of them, Sturgis and Meo, worked together at Sturgis’ father’s construction business.
Sturgis was last seen leaving his house Friday night to visit Meo, Sturgis’ father told NBC 10. When the two men didn’t show up for work on Saturday morning, Sturgis’ father, Mark Potash, grew worried, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I thought maybe they had a night of drinking and slept somewhere,” Potash told the Inquirer. “That was my hope.”
Calls to both of their cellphones went directly to voice mail. So late Saturday, Potash called the police.
Finocchario, a mutual friend of Sturgis and Meo, was last seen Friday night getting into a vehicle driven by another individual, who is not missing, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
On Monday, a slew of law enforcement agencies converged at a 68-acre farm in Solebury Township, using metal detectors, a backhoe and “a ton of investigative resources” to scour the property, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in the news conference. A signal from Finocchiaro’s cellphone led authorities to the farm, according to the New York Times.
Authorities on Monday also arrested Cosmo DiNardo, 20, whose parents own the farm, on a previous weapons charge that had initially been dismissed. It is unclear if DiNardo is connected to the disappearance of the four men and why authorities decided to take him into custody.
Police initially arrested DiNardo in February after they found him with a 20-gauge shotgun he was not authorized to posses, due to his history of mental illness, according to a police affidavit. He had previously been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for inpatient treatment, the affidavit read.
DiNardo is being held in Bucks County Jail on 10 percent of his $1 million bail, local news outlets reported.
Weintraub said “it sure would seem” that foul play was involved in the cases of the missing men. He said that searching the farm property was like “trying to find needles in a haystack” but said “we’re getting a lot of strong indications that this is where we need to focus the majority of our resources.”
“We’re pretty confident that the investigation is proceeding in the direction that we believed that it would,” Weintraub said in Monday’s news conference. But he added that “there is so much more work to do” and the search efforts could take days.
Authorities also found Meo’s car near the area where they were searching, was found in the garage, according to news reports.
Asked if the four men are still alive, Weintraub said, “I can’t say.”
“We hope and pray that they are, but we have to go where the investigation leads us,” he said.
Relatives of the missing men gathered near the large farm property owned by the DiNardos, waiting for updates from police as the search continued.
“I can’t even begin to imagine,” Potash, Sturgis’ father, told the Inquirer. “At this point, as the hours pass, it seems more and more grim.”
He said his son is a skilled guitar player and athlete, and “super intelligent.” He has three sisters and one brother.
A woman who identified herself as Sturgis’ mother pleaded on Facebook for help finding her son and Tom Meo, who she said is diabetic. Potash described Sturgis and Meo as hard workers.
“They are just really good kids,” Potash said.
The weekend, Potash told the Bucks County Courier Times, had been a “nightmare.”
Patrick, the first of the four to go missing, just finished his first year at Loyola University in Maryland, the Bucks County Courier Times reported. Finocchario works a retail job, Wil Snyder, who called himself one of his best friends, told the newspaper.
“He’s a good guy, a good friend,” said 19-year-old Wil Snyder. “I don’t think he would do something to cause this.”
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