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.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in a news conference Monday that foul play is suspected in the disappearances, and that leads are “incredibly hot.” At a briefing Tuesday, Weintraub said someone in custody on unrelated charges is believed to be a “person of interest” in the case.
The first to go missing, Jimi Tara Patrick, 19, was last seen 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 said. Two of them, Sturgis and Meo, worked together at Sturgis’s father’s construction business.
Sturgis was last seen leaving his house Friday night to visit Meo, Sturgis’s father told NBC 10. When the two men didn’t show up for work Saturday morning, Sturgis’s 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 voicemail. So late Saturday, Potash called the police.
Finocchiaro, 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, Weintraub said at a news conference. A signal from Finocchiaro’s cellphone led authorities to the farm, according to the New York Times.
Speaking on Tuesday, Weintraub described the search as an all-hands-on-deck effort, saying that dozens of state police cadets were helping search the 90-acre farm.
“We have not recovered any human remains to this point,” he said at a news briefing. “But we continue to work very, very hard on establishing all kinds of investigative leads.”
Authorities on Monday arrested Cosmo DiNardo, 20, whose family owns the farm, on a previous weapons charge that had initially been dismissed.
Speaking on Tuesday, Weintraub said that DiNardo “is a person of interest in this case,” but he emphasized that there is a big difference between being of interest and being charged with something, noting that the chasm “is so wide that we never cross it” in some cases.
Police initially arrested DiNardo in February after they found him with a 20-gauge shotgun he was not authorized to possess because of 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, Weintraub said. Speaking on Tuesday, the district attorney declined to say whether DiNardo was talking to authorities.
Weintraub said at the earlier briefing Monday that “it sure would seem” 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 added “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 at 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 in a garage, according to news reports.
Asked whether the four men are 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, awaiting updates from police as the search continued.
“I can’t even begin to imagine,” Potash, Sturgis’s 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’s 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. Wil Snyder, who called himself one of Finocchiaro’s best friends, told the newspaper that Finocchiaro works a retail job.
“He’s a good guy, a good friend,” said Snyder, 19. “I don’t think he would do something to cause this.”
This report has been updated.
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