Scores of law enforcement officers swarmed into central Bucks County for a second day Tuesday, scouring a 90-acre tract of woods and farmland for clues about four young men missing since last week — and whether they are still alive.
A week after the first man went missing and a day after saying foul play was likely, officials named the son of the property owners as “a person of interest” in the case. Still, District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said he and the families of the four were holding out hope the men would be found safe.
“We have not recovered any human remains to this point,” Weintraub said, discrediting a report that bodies had been found at the Solebury Township site. “But we continue to work very, very hard.”
The search for the men – Mark R. Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg; Thomas C. Meo, 21, of Plumstead; Dean A. Finocchiaro, 18, of Middletown; and Jimi Tar Patrick, 19, of Newtown – has grown into the largest law enforcement case in the county’s recent history. Scores of FBI agents, U.S. marshals, state police, Bucks County officers, and Montgomery County police recruits combed the farmland and fanned across the county for any evidence relating to the disappearances.
Weintraub said officials were still trying to establish the relationship among the four missing men and Cosmo DiNardo, 20, of Bensalem, whose parents own the tract.
Already jailed Monday on unrelated firearms charges, DiNardo was released late Tuesday after posting bond for his $1 million bail.
That came hours after Weintraub declared him a person of interest in the disappearances. At the second of two news briefings Tuesday, the district attorney said “there are some very obvious links” connecting DiNardo to the case, but would not elaborate.
“There is some information that I am privy to that I can’t share with you,” Weintraub said. “I want to be very careful to stress that he is a person of interest. He has not been charged or arrested with respect to any of the missing four young men at this time.”
Meanwhile, family and friends flooded social media with photos, articles, and pleas for the men’s safe return. Rumors also filled social media, and national news crews poured into Solebury.
Investigators searched the site, which includes an overgrown field, with “anything from major construction equipment all the way down to the finest sifting equipment you can imagine,” the prosecutor said. He said he authorities would find large and small pieces of evidence.
“The amount of manpower that we’ve employed just at this property is mind-boggling,” Weintraub said, calling the investigation the largest such undertaking he has seen in 25 years as a prosecutor. “Take the biggest one you’ve ever seen and multiply it by a million.”
The families of the missing men returned to the search site Tuesday morning. They parked in a cornfield near the entrance and awaited updates from investigators. Police cars stood guard and blocked the driveway into the property. Aerial images showed searchers using brooms, shovels, and buckets.
“We have four families literally keeping a vigil at the scene of our investigation,” Weintraub said.
DiNardo, of Bensalem, had been held on a firearms charge that authorities first filed in February. Weintraub would not say whether DiNardo was cooperating with police or whether firearms have been recovered, but he did say that his office urged that bail be set at $1 million.
The charges refiled against him Monday are not related to the investigation, Weintraub said. They had been dismissed by a district judge; the District Attorney’s Office reauthorized the charges against him in a letter dated June 21. Asked why they were not refiled earlier, Weintraub said, “Sometimes that’s out of our control.”
DiNardo was a Facebook friend with Patrick, but his social media profile offered no other clues about any ties.
According to the criminal complaint filed in February on the firearms charge, DiNardo was “known to be suffering from mental illness” and had previously been involuntarily admitted to an inpatient treatment facility. He was charged for possessing a shotgun and ammunition, weapons he was prohibited from having because of his admittance to the care center, according to the court document.
“Sometimes the chasm between being a person of interest and being a person who’s actually accused or arrested or certainly convicted of a crime is so wide that we never cross it,” Weintraub said. “We are certainly trying to explore every avenue.”
DiNardo apparently had college plans. An Arcadia University article from 2015 said he enrolled as a member of the Class of 2019 and planned to be a biology major. He said he hoped to study abroad in Italy. It was unclear if he had attended the school or for how long.
A post on his Facebook page advertised seven new pairs of name-brand sneakers. A Flickr account belonging to someone of the same name contains 187 photos of shoes, including Nikes and Air Jordans, many pairs taken with a sign with his name and the date written on it.
Records show that his parents, Antonio and Sandra, of Bensalem, own the property in the 6000 block of Lower York Road in Solebury.
The DiNardos also own a swath of land along Aquetong Road in New Hope, as well as parcels on Rising Sun Avenue in Bensalem and a home on Wayland Circle. No search warrants had been executed at the Bensalem house, where DiNardo was arrested Monday, according to the district court.
The family is in the concrete business. DiNardo Bros. Materials Inc. is listed in state business records as operating from the DiNardos’ Bensalem home address, with Antonio DiNardo as president and treasurer. The business is listed as the owner of Metro Ready Mix & Supplies in the Juniata Park area of Philadelphia, a concrete contractor.
The DiNardos have an outstanding tax lien of $16,684 owed to the state; in the recent past, they have owed $186,000 to the federal government and $128,616 to the state, but paid the fees, court records show.
Cars belonging to two of the missing men were found near the property, within a mile and a half of each other, according to the father of one of the boys: Sturgis’ at Peddler’s Village, and Meo’s in the garage at a house belonging to the DiNardos in the 2800 block of Aquetong Road.
Sturgis and Meo were good friends, Sturgis’ father, Mark Potash, said Monday. A friend of Finocchiaro’s said Monday he was “a good kid” who would not go missing on purpose. Finocchiaro has two pending criminal cases in Bucks County Court on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, simple assault, conspiracy, and harassment.
DA Matt Weintraub: Keep tips coming on 4 missing young men. "We are running down every single tip that you give us." pic.twitter.com/fweibjJbyl
— Laura McCrystal (@LMcCrystal) July 11, 2017
The effort could take several more days, said Weintraub, who planned another briefing for Wednesday morning. Tips have been pouring in about the young men and investigators made a plea for more.
Asked whether the men could still be alive, Weintraub said: “Anything is possible. I have hope. I think that it’s very important to hang onto hope until there is no room left for it.”