Bound by faith and an increasing sense of urgency, hundreds of volunteers concerned about the fate of West Chester University student Shane Montgomery gathered Saturday evening in Manayunk for an emotional prayer vigil near the bar where he was last seen partying with friends on Thanksgiving Eve.
A special Mass followed at St. John the Baptist Church on Rector Street.
Nearly 500 people - friends, family, fellow students, and neighborhood residents - had scoured the streets and the Schuylkill riverbank in near-freezing conditions over two days, with the search scheduled to continue Sunday. Participants said the search party was among the largest ever assembled and managed by Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue.
Christmas tree lighting and caroling festivities in Manayunk were postponed Saturday in deference to the search for Montgomery, 21, of Roxborough, a Roman Catholic High School graduate.
As darkness fell, supporters of the Montgomery family and searchers lit candles in a park across from Kildare's Irish Pub at 4417 Main St., their eyes welling with tears for their classmate, teammate, nephew, cousin, friend, and son.
"It's really scary," said Katie Kavanaugh, 21, a student at Pennsylvania State University who grew up with Montgomery and who said she considered him a brother. She had been searching for him since Thursday. "It's something you hear about on the news and you never think will happen to you. I'm trying to hope for the best but ready for whatever the outcome may be."
Montgomery has been missing since about 1:45 a.m. Thursday, when he reportedly was escorted out of Kildare's, where he and friends had gathered as the Thanksgiving holiday began. The bar is across the street from the Manayunk Canal.
Teams formed at St. John the Baptist on Saturday morning for a second full day of searching. Philadelphia police dispatched officers from a marine unit to patrol the frigid waters.
"Every once in a while, there's a burst of hope," said Karen Montgomery, Shane's mother, "but a part of me knows something is wrong."
Waiting at the church before the vigil and Mass, she said she was heartened by the outpouring of concern for her son: "You hear about the bad in the world, but this support has been overwhelming, and I appreciate it."
The family has offered a $10,000 reward for information about Montgomery's disappearance. Karen Montgomery said her son was escorted out of Kildare's after he tripped over a stool. He had been at the bar with a cousin and friends, and they became separated, she said.
Kevin Montgomery, 56, Shane's father, said he was heartbroken with worry over his missing son.
"We're praying for a turning point or clue that points us in the right direction," he said. "We won't stop until we do."
Both parents said they had not slept since Shane went missing.
People from the neighborhood, among them City Councilman Curtis Jones, arrived throughout the day to offer support and/or join the search.
"We're a neighborhood that sticks together," said Dan Pellicciotti, 21.
In the church social hall, food was served to volunteers throughout the day, compliments of local restaurants and businesses that donated.
Mark Hopkins, chief of Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue, said, "Everybody's amped up and wants to help, but it's got to be focused."
The Rev. John Kelly of St. John the Baptist, who officiated at Saturday night's Mass, said search teams covered 475 acres.
Hopkins said 25 to 30 people were dispatched in each group sent to search designated areas, with few leads, noting that the situation was nearing the point where police will have "to go into a more investigative phase."
During the Mass, about 150 people sat with heads bowed and hands clasped tightly in prayer. In his sermon, Kelly applauded those assembled for their efforts in an act he called "impressive, overwhelming, but encouraging."
"It's edifying, encouraging, and at the same time it's a great challenge," he said. "The comfort is that none of us are alone in this."
"It's hard and frustrating," Megan Maguire, 19, said outside after the service. "We're going to find him. There is no doubt about that."
As the search got underway in earnest Friday, family and friends joined police in posting fliers and messages on social media. Police searched the river and used a helicopter Friday to check rooftops and fire escapes.
The last location tracked on Montgomery's mobile phone was a CVS pharmacy at 2:38 a.m. Thursday.
"It's a lesson for all of us to not go anywhere by ourselves and to stick together," said Kavanaugh. "Being in a safe neighborhood, you don't think anything will happen, and you take it for granted."
Montgomery, who attended St. John's grade school, is described as white, 5 feet, 11 inches tall, about 130 pounds, with short brown hair and green eyes. He has a tattoo of a Celtic cross on one shoulder blade.
He was last seen wearing a gray button-down shirt, blue jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt, and black sneakers.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Patrick Valentino at 215-686-3353 or 3354.
Photos of Montgomery and his tattoo can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1tp6nck.
Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.