Three separate families, brought together by unimaginable grief, passed tissues to one another and squeezed hands. Pauses were filled with muffled sobs.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't cry and think of Jimi," said Sharon Patrick, grandmother and legal guardian of Jimi Patrick.
"He is so missed," Bonnie Finocchiaro said of son Dean. "Life is just not the same ever again."
Eight months to the day that the first of their boys went missing, the families of three of the four victims of confessed killer Cosmo DiNardo gathered Monday to announce the filing of three wrongful-death lawsuits. The families' attorneys contend that DiNardo's parents and their construction company share blame in the killings, along with their son and his co-defendant and cousin, Sean Kratz.
"In our eyes, Cosmo DiNardo was given a playland for illegal acts," said Carin O'Donnell, who represents the Patrick family.
"Whether it's at a school or on a farm, mentally ill people and guns don't mix," said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who represents Thomas Meo's family.
"Had [DiNardo] not had access to the gun, the backhoe, the pig roaster, and the farm itself, this crime could not have been committed," said attorney Tom Kline, who represents the Finocchiaro family.
In July, the four young men were killed and their bodies were later found on a Bucks County farm owned by the DiNardo family.
Monday's suits allege that given Cosmo DiNardo's documented mental health issues — which included an involuntary commitment to a mental health facility and a ban from both his high school and a college he briefly attended — his parents, Antonio and Sandra, should not have given him access to guns. Nor should they have allowed him to use their company-owned backhoe, ATVs and other construction equipment in the July killings and their attempted cover-up, the suit said.
At a Monday news conference at Mongeluzzi's Center City office, the families of the three young men spoke publicly for the first time about their loss and the legacies left by the young men.
Relatives of Patrick, 19, of Newtown; Finocchiaro, 18, of Middletown; and Thomas Meo, 21, of Plumstead, filled one side of a long conference table.
The family of the fourth victim, Mark Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg, filed a wrongful death suit in December.
Bonnie Finocchiaro remembered her son as an "awesome person to be around" with a "huge heart," someone who would go out of his way to help others no matter how large the task.
Melissa Fratanduono-Meo said son Tom was "bright and funny" and always "a lot of fun." He enjoyed wrestling, hanging out with friends and his girlfriend, working in construction, and playing with his younger sisters, Fratanduono-Meo said.
Through tears, Sharon Patrick recalled her last moments with Jimi, whom she called the love of her life.
It was almost 6 p.m. on July 5, she said. Jimi, still tired from a July Fourth party the night before, told her he was leaving to meet friends at a Chick-fil-A.
"He was just standing right in front of me, and I said, 'Are you waiting for me to get up and kiss you goodbye?'" Sharon Patrick said, her voice breaking. "So I stood up and I kissed him goodbye. And I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me. Then we hugged each other, and I told him, 'Come home early.' "
"He said he would," she said, beginning to cry harder. "That was the last time."
Fortunato Perri Jr., a defense lawyer for Cosmo DiNardo, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The firm of George Bochetto, an attorney for Antonio and Sandra DiNardo, said Bochetto was out of the country and would comment on the lawsuit upon his return later this week.
Craig Penglase, the lawyer representing Kratz, said he was concerned that the civil litigation could affect the criminal trial.
"I don't begrudge [the families] the right to do this," Penglase said, "but I just don't know what the rush is."
In December, Sturgis' family also named DiNardo's parents in their wrongful death suit.
"The DiNardo family has been absolutely crushed and devastated by what's occurred," Bochetto said in December. "It's regrettable that they would be subject to lawsuits when they themselves are grieving so heavily over all of this."
DiNardo, 21, is charged with murdering the four men on his parent's 90-acre Solebury Township farm after luring them there under the guise of selling them marijuana. After a massive search that garnered national attention, the men's remains were found in a converted oil tank that had served as a pig roaster, and buried 12½ feet under ground on the property.
DiNardo, who had talked before of having people killed, was charged with the murders, and confessed in a deal that was said to have taken the death penalty off the table. Kratz, 21, was charged as a conspirator in three of the deaths.
Both DiNardo and Kratz pleaded not guilty in December in Bucks County Court. If DiNardo later pleads guilty, prosecutors have indicated that he would likely still be spared the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty for Kratz.
DiNardo and Kratz are scheduled for trial Nov. 7.