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Meet the civilian divers who cracked the case of a Delaware County man who’d been missing for two decades

This group of divers and YouTubers has helped solve about 20 missing-person cold cases in just a few years.

Doug Bishop of Adventures with Purpose (left) and Ridley Twp. Police Chief James Dougherty discuss recovery of a missing person and vehicle that were discovered by Bishop in the water at the Ridley Township Municipal Marina on Saturday.
Doug Bishop of Adventures with Purpose (left) and Ridley Twp. Police Chief James Dougherty discuss recovery of a missing person and vehicle that were discovered by Bishop in the water at the Ridley Township Municipal Marina on Saturday.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

It all started with trash.

In 2019, a group of YouTube users who had an affinity for diving started a collective of sorts that focused on cleaning up garbage and retrieving lost personal items from the bottom of lakes and rivers, including debris as large as vehicles.

Founder Jared Leisek and diver Doug Bishop then heard from a family in Missouri: A loved one was missing and presumed dead, and they believed his remains might be in a river. Could the YouTube divers help?

Leisek and Bishop traveled from Oregon with their film crew and went searching. They helped find the man’s truck and remains, and Adventures With Purpose took on a new mission: Find missing people.

Since then, the group has traveled across the country and solved about 20 cold cases. On Saturday, the group brought crew and equipment to Darby Creek in Delaware County, and after about 10 hours of work, appeared to have cracked a nearly two-decades-old mystery.

Here’s more about the civilian divers and the cold case that brought them to the Philadelphia region.

Who are these people?

They call themselves YouTubers, cold case divers, and members of an underwater sonar search-and-recovery dive team. Adventures With Purpose is made up of volunteers from across the country who are interested in helping the families of missing people find closure.

» READ MORE: Family says dive team found missing Delco man’s remains in Darby Creek after 18 years

Some are experienced divers, some are experts in sonar technology used to scan bodies of water for debris, and some are communicators who create content about the searches. Their YouTube channel is hugely popular, with more than two million subscribers.

The members are volunteers, and their work — provided to families of missing people free of charge — is funded entirely by donations and merchandise sales.

What happened in Delaware County?

In a video posted Sunday, Bishop said they heard a few months ago from the family of James Amabile, a 38-year-old father who was last seen on Dec. 4, 2003, and went missing after telling his babysitter he was on his way to pick up his daughters.

Seven members of Adventures With Purpose, who travel the country in an RV, arrived in Delaware County on Saturday morning to meet with Amabile’s family. They rehashed the details of the case — including that Amabile was diabetic and may have slipped into diabetic shock — and then retraced his short drive from his home to the sitter’s.

They ruled out a few waterways and settled on a Darby Creek marina. They tracked a vehicle about 24 feet down, and two of the members went for a dive.

The divers found Amabile’s vehicle, and human remains were still buckled in to the front seat.

After surfacing, the team contacted Ridley Township Police, who cordoned off the area and took over the investigation. The medical examiner has not yet positively identified the remains as Amabile’s, but his family believes the body is his.

“We’re just happy that we provided closure,” one of the divers told The Inquirer.

What are some other cases they’ve solved?

They’ve found clues that helped crack open a handful of cases since that first major mission in Missouri.

For example, in May 2020, as initial COVID-19 lockdowns were lifted in Oregon, a handful of divers from the group detected a vehicle more than 70 feet below the surface of the Willamette River. When they pulled out the Mazda, they found something they didn’t expect: the remains of Timothy Robinson, a 56-year-old who’d gone missing in the area 12 years earlier.

And earlier that year, the group connected with a family in Waco, Texas, who was desperate for answers in the disappearance of their matriarch, Stephanie Torres, who was last seen in December 2017, according to local news coverage.

They began their search on Jan. 19 and, within an hour, found Torres’ blue Kia. Her body was still inside.

What’s next for these divers?

Adventures With Purpose was recently in Philadelphia scanning the Delaware River in search of any signs that might crack a case that has rankled the city for 17 years: the disappearance of Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone, a young couple last seen leaving a bar on South Street in 2005.

The divers have been working on the case for more than a year and looking for the couple’s Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Leisek is still holding out hope their work could lead to a break.

“We’re still working this case,” he said in a video last month. “You just never know.”