Authorities said they have discovered human remains in a search for four missing men in Bucks County, Pa., and identified one of the bodies as a 19-year-old who disappeared on Friday.
Investigators are now considering the case a homicide, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said during a midnight news conference early Thursday.
Weintraub said investigators found the body of Dean Finocchiaro among human remains discovered in a grave more than 12 feet deep on a rural property in Solebury Township, where they have been searching for the missing men since last week. Cadaver dogs led investigators to the hole, which Weintraub identified as a “common grave.”
The revelation came after authorities named Cosmo DiNardo, 20, of Bensalem, a “person of interest” in the case and arrested him for stealing a car belonging to one of the missing men.
Weintraub said he is now classifying the case as a homicide, but “we just don’t know how many homicides.” He did not say how Finocchiaro was killed.
Authorities said they will hold another briefing late Thursday morning.
Weintraub did not say whether the rest of the bodies were identified as the other three missing men, but said recovery efforts will continue Thursday. The first of the men to disappear, Jimi Tara Patrick, 19, was last seen on July 5. Finocchiaro, Mark Sturgis, 22; and Thomas Meo, 21, vanished on Friday. Some or all of them appeared to know one another, authorities said.
“This painstaking process will go on,” Weintraub said. “We’re going to bring each and every one of these lost boys home to their families one way or another. We will not rest until we do that.”
The discovery of the remains marked a grim turning point in the arduous search for the missing men, which has gripped this picturesque county, one of the wealthiest in the state. Over the weekend, authorities from several local and state law enforcement agencies — along with the FBI — launched an extensive criminal search effort, focusing on a sprawling farm belonging to DiNardo’s parents and located in a rural area about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.
Police had initially arrested DiNardo in February after finding him with a 20-gauge shotgun he was not authorized to possess because of his history of mental illness, according to a police affidavit. Authorities initially dismissed the charges but refiled them on Monday, after the disappearances of the four men.
He was released from custody Tuesday night, after DiNardo’s father posted 10 percent of a $1 million bail. Then, on Wednesday, authorities arrested DiNardo again, accusing him of stealing and trying to sell a 1996 Nissan Maxima that belonged to Meo, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office. DiNardo allegedly tried to sell Meo’s car for $500 to a friend, Weintraub said.
Authorities found the car on Sunday, along with Meo’s car keys and title, in a garage on a Solebury Township property owned by DiNardo’s parents, Weintraub said.
The car also contained Meo’s diabetic supplies, according to a criminal complaint filed in district court. A police affidavit filed with the complaint said that Meo is diabetic and relies on insulin, noting that he “carries his diabetic supplies where ever he goes and would not intentionally leave them behind.”
According to Weintraub’s office, relatives said Meo could not have survived without the diabetic kid.
Police found Sturgis’s car less than two miles away from Meo’s,
DiNardo was arraigned Wednesday via a video on felony charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. A magisterial district judge ordered him held on $5 million cash bail, saying she found that DiNardo “is a grave risk.”
“We bought ourselves a little bit of time,” with the charges and bail amount, Weintraub said. “It is my hope that he does not post that, but that’s his prerogative.”
DiNardo has a history of mental illness, and was previously involuntarily committed to a mental health institution after firing a shotgun, authorities said. Prosecutors said he is schizophrenic, a flight risk and a “dangerous person,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, adding that his lawyers claimed he was being targeted for his mental health issues.
A lawyer representing DiNardo’s parents and the owner of the 90-acre farm, Antonio and Sandra DiNardo, released a statement saying the family is cooperating with the investigation and sympathizes with the relatives of the missing men, the Associated Press reported.
Weintraub emphasized that while authorities have focused on DiNardo, “this investigation is still wide open.”
“We don’t pick a person and then try to build a case around that person,” Weintraub said. “That’s not fair to anyone. As of this moment, he remains a person of interest. But if others arise and we can name them, we will.”
Weintraub has stressed during the investigation that there is a big difference between identifying someone as a person of interest in a case and charging them.
The men who vanished seemed to have connections to DiNardo. Meo and Sturgis first met DiNardo when he was looking to sell marijuana, one of Meo’s friends told the Philadelphia Inquirer. DiNardo and Patrick both went to Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem. DiNardo and Finocchiaro were both in at least one Facebook page for buying and selling ATVs, the newspaper reported.
Two of the missing men, Sturgis and Meo, were good friends and worked together at Sturgis’s father’s construction business. Sturgis told his father he would be hanging out with Meo on Friday night, according to a criminal complaint.
The two friends failed to show up for work the following day, and have not been seen ever since. Meo’s girlfriend last spoke with him through text messages on Friday night, shortly before 7 p.m. After that, Meo stopped responding, “which is out of the ordinary and not common,” according to the complaint.
Patrick, the first of the four to go missing, just finished his first year at Loyola University in Maryland, a Jesuit school. He was on the dean’s list and had no conduct violations, the university’s president, the Rev. Brian Linnane, told the Baltimore Sun.
“He had a very successful year, and he is poised for a great success at Loyola,” he said. “We want to be with him and his family and hope for the best.”
About 50 students, faculty and staff gathered at the university’s chapel Wednesday to pray for Patrick and the other three men. Director of Campus Ministry Sean Bray said the group wanted to “storm heaven with our prayers for Jimi’s safe return,” honoring a request from Patrick’s grandmother, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The families of the missing have also kept a vigil throughout the week near the area searched by investigators, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“At this point, as the hours pass, it seems more and more grim,” Mark Potash, Sturgis’s father, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week.
He said his son is a skilled guitar player and athlete, and “super intelligent.” He has three sisters and one brother.
Eric Beitz told the Inquirer he is good friends with Meo, whom he called a talented wrestler and “hell of an athlete.” Meo, his friend said, is “the most good-hearted, loyal, hard-working young man I’ve ever met in my life.”
Wil Snyder, 19, who called himself one of Finocchiaro’s best friends, told the Bucks County Courier Times that Finocchiaro worked a retail job.
“He’s a good guy,” Snyder told the newspaper, “a good friend.”
This story has been updated and will be updated again.
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