Several family members of four young men missing since last week waited grimly Monday afternoon as investigators and search crews descended on farm acreage in Solebury Township, Bucks County, using metal detectors and a backhoe in what authorities called a criminal investigation.
District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said Monday afternoon that he suspected foul play in the men's disappearance.
"I sure believe there is," Weintraub said at an afternoon news conference on the status of those missing, identified by county investigators as 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.
As search crews, including FBI agents and officers from several local jurisdictions, combed the property in the 6000 block of Lower York Road, Weintraub said investigators were treating the case "as a criminal investigation at this time until we know differently." County authorities called in the FBI to assist with the search, Weintraub said.
Records show the property is owned by Antonio, 46, and Sandra DiNardo, 47, both of Bensalem.
"The leads are incredibly hot, they're very fruitful, and we are making great progress, but there is so much more work to do," he said. "We're not going to rest until we get through every inch of that property."
Police took the DiNardos' 20-year-old son, Cosmo, also of Bensalem, into custody Monday on a February firearms charge that had been dismissed but was refiled Monday. Court records showed the younger DiNardo was being held at the Bucks County prison on $1 million bail. The charge appears to be unrelated to the disappearances.
After Cosmo DiNardo was arraigned Monday afternoon in Bensalem, his lawyer, Michael Kevin Parlow, left the police station with Antonio DiNardo. Both declined to comment, and calls to the DiNardos went unanswered.
Weintraub declined to comment on whether Cosmo DiNardo was connected to the case.
"I certainly have not spoken with him, and I cannot reveal whether our investigation has led in his direction," he said.
According to a criminal complaint filed in February for the firearms charge against Cosmo DiNardo, he "is known to be suffering from mental illness" and had previously been involuntarily admitted to an inpatient treatment facility. He had a shotgun and ammunition with him, weapons he was prohibited from having because of his admittance to the care center, according to the court document. The charge against him was dismissed in late May. The court file included a June 21 letter from from the District Attorney's Office to the Bensalem Police Department, authorizing police to reinstate the charges.
The district attorney said investigators were confident that they should keep searching the 68-acre DiNardo property, which includes a farmhouse built in 1890.
Weintraub said the search — which could go on for days — was "like finding needles in a haystack." Several police cars and a backhoe could be seen from the roadway.
Televised aerial news footage showed investigators, some with metal detectors, gathered alongside a newly planted field as a backhoe slowly lifted large chunks of concrete and moved them aside. Two portable tent canopies had been set up close to a large investigative van nearby.
Relatives of the missing men stood in the shade of trees alongside a nearby road, waiting for any reports. Some of them, including Rich and Sharon Patrick — grandparents of Jimi Patrick — conferred with law enforcement officials.
"We're not exactly sure what we're going to find there," Weintraub added.
State business records list the DiNardos as owners of a concrete contracting business, Cosan LLC, registered at their Bensalem property on the 900 block of Wayland Circle.
Sturgis' father, Mark Potash, said his son and Meo were last seen Friday. Weintraub said one of the other men also was last seen Friday and the fourth disappeared Wednesday. Investigators said they were unsure if the disappearances were linked, except that they were told all four knew one another.
Potash said his son and Meo both worked for him at his construction business.
On Saturday morning, when the two didn't show up for work, he was concerned, he said.
"I thought maybe they had a night of drinking and slept somewhere," Potash said. "That was my hope."
By mid-afternoon, Potash said he knew something was wrong. Calls to both men's phones went straight to voice mail, he said. He contacted police late Saturday.
"They are just really good kids," Potash said, describing them as hard workers.
He has no idea why his son or Meo are missing, Potash said.
"I can't even begin to imagine," he said. "At this point, as the hours pass, it seems more and more grim."
Sturgis is a phenomenal guitar player, "super intelligent," a great athlete, worker, brother, and son, according to Potash. His son, who grew up with his mother and lives with him, has three sisters and one brother.
He and Sturgis' mother have been in touch and said they are both struggling. Potash has also been in contact with the Meo family and said everyone was trying to hold it together.
"It is very difficult," he said. "I really don't know how I'm going to make it through the rest of the day. I'm going minute by minute right now."
A Facebook post seeking leads said Meo is diabetic and was last seen around Routes 202 and 263 near Doylestown on Friday.
Devin Houser, 20, of Doylestown, previously worked with Meo at Doylestown Auto & Tire. The two met about a year and a half ago and became work friends, Houser said. They had hung out a few times since and lived minutes apart, so Houser frequently gave Meo a ride home when their shifts let out. He said Meo would strike up and hold a conversation with anyone.
"He was, like, an easygoing person; he was a really nice dude," Houser said. "He'd get along with any single person."
He said those who know Meo were concerned.
"Everyone just seems stunned by it," Houser said. "No one really knows what's going on."
Eric Zigman, 19, of Langhorne, said he has been a friend of Finocchiaro's since they were students at Maple Point Middle School and Neshaminy High School. He warned about "people making ridiculous accusations" on social media "as if they know what's going on when they clearly don't."
"Nobody knows what's going on, so no one should be making any crazy accusations about the kid," he added. "Because I know him personally, and I know he's a good kid and he would not just go missing like this without saying a word to his family or close friends."
State police, along with detectives from Solebury, Middletown, Newtown, and Buckingham Townships, as well as police dogs, executed a search warrant at a home in Solebury around 7 p.m. Sunday.
Potash said Meo's car was found in the garage, near the property where police focused their search Monday.
Potash said his son's car had been found at Peddlers Village in Lahaska. Finocchiaro was last seen as he was being picked up by a fifth person, who is not missing, Potash said.
Weintraub declined to comment on whether cars were found. He said county detectives, with the help of several local police departments and the FBI., were searching several locations.
Finocchiaro has two pending criminal cases in Bucks County Court. He's facing charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, simple assault, conspiracy, and harassment, stemming from arrests earlier this year.
Asked whether the four young men were still alive, Weintraub replied: "I can't say. We hope and pray that they are, but we need to go where the investigation leads us."
Anyone with information about the men's whereabouts was asked to call a tip line: 215-297-8201.