A year later, families of 4 murdered young men remain raw
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — In the sweltering heat of a summer day, Sharon Patrick walked the cornfields of the DiNardo family’s Solebury Township farm, praying the rosary. She told herself that her Jimi would be found, perhaps traumatized, but alive.
Aimee Sturgis King stared up the long driveway toward the center of the property, where investigators searched for four missing young men: her son Mark Sturgis; Tom Meo; Jimi Patrick; and Dean Finocchiaro.
“It was just one giant blur,” she said in a recent interview, recalling the events of that July day last year. “We were there before they started searching every morning. I was there after they all left. Staring. ... I would just stare into the distance, knowing my child was somewhere back there.”
News helicopters hovered. Traffic backed up on Lower York Road as cars slowed, with drivers trying to get a closer look at the Bucks County tract that had become the epicenter of a national news story. At the foot of that driveway on the 90-acre property, four families gathered under tents, talking about their missing loved ones and wondering what might have happened.
Later that week, after days of searching, they learned that it had been the unfathomable.
Cosmo DiNardo, the property owners’ mentally ill son, confessed to a grisly crime, telling authorities he lured the young men to the farm under the guise of selling them marijuana, then shot and killed them. He ran over one with a backhoe, attempted to burn three of them in a converted oil tanker, then buried them on the farm.
DiNardo and his cousin Sean Kratz, both 21, were charged in the killings the next day, July 14.
DiNardo pleaded guilty in May and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms. Through his lawyer, DiNardo declined comment for this story, as did his family.
Kratz’s trial is expected to begin next year. Through his attorneys, he declined comment, citing a gag order that bars defense attorneys and prosecutors from speaking publicly about the case.
Until now, the victims’ families have stayed mostly out of the spotlight. But as the one-year anniversary of the murders approached, they sat down to recount the terrible events, to shed light on the lives of the young men who were killed, and to talk about how they have learned to live without them.
The news cycle has moved on in the year since the murders. National attention has focused elsewhere. But for these families, the pain — the ever-present heartache — is as real and as raw as it was the day the young men went missing.
“Jimi, where are you?”
Sharon and Rich Patrick, the grandparents who raised Jimi Patrick, sit quietly in his bedroom in Newtown. His name is spelled out on the wall in capital letters. There is a photo of him as a boy on the mound in his signature No. 9 baseball jersey, near the desk where he sat for hours toiling over homework. The room remains almost exactly as it was on July 5 of last year, when Patrick last left it.
WHO THEY WERE
Jimi T. Patrick, 19
“He would’ve been a good father and a good husband and he would’ve made a difference in this world.” - Sharon Patrick
He was home from freshman year at Loyola University Maryland, which he was attending on a scholarship package that totaled more than $50,000 a year. A business major, he excelled there, his family said, just as he had at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem.
In the days before his death, he worked his part-time job at a restaurant and celebrated the Fourth of July with friends.
The next evening, he told his grandmother he was going out to grab a bite to eat. He wouldn’t be long, he told her.
They hugged and exchanged “I love you’s,” a feeling they didn’t always verbalize. As he left, Patrick hugged his grandfather goodbye in the garage.
Then he walked outside and into DiNardo’s silver pickup truck. The two drove 12 miles to the Solebury farm, where DiNardo shot Patrick with a .22-caliber rifle and buried his body in a freshly dug grave.
“I DON’T THINK JIMI WOULD EVER THINK THAT ANYONE WOULD EVER HURT HIM.”
- SHARON PATRICK
Around 2 a.m., Sharon Patrick woke up and peeked into her grandson’s bedroom. It was empty, the bed still made.
“Jimi, where are you?” she texted him.
Later that day, the Patricks reported their grandson missing. Authorities pinged his cellphone and, for reasons unknown, the signal hit off cell towers in Springfield, Delaware County, Sharon Patrick said.
Rich Patrick drove there, handed out fliers, talked with police, and scoured the area for any sign of his grandson, having no idea he was buried 40 miles away in Solebury.
Sharon Patrick had heard DiNardo’s name once before, she said. DiNardo was a year ahead of Patrick at Holy Ghost Prep. When Patrick, a budding entrepreneur, started selling sneakers online in high school, she asked how he learned how to do all that. He said, “This kid at school sells sneakers. Cosmo.”
It was such a unique name. She never forgot it. But she had no idea that he and Patrick would cross paths years later.
“I just think maybe (Jimi) was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his grandmother said. “I don’t think Jimi would ever think that anyone would ever hurt him.”
Someday, Sharon Patrick wants to be able to forgive DiNardo, she said. She is sympathetic to mental illness. Her daughter, Patrick’s mother, is schizophrenic. A single mother, she was unable to raise her son on her own, Sharon Patrick said.
SHARON & RICH PATRICK
“I just want to give him a kiss”
While Sharon Patrick believes DiNardo’s parents should have watched over him more closely, she said of DiNardo: “I just want to believe he was in a state of mind where he had no idea what he was doing.”
Since losing their grandson, the Patricks have found purpose in helping others. They started the Jimi T. Patrick Memorial Fund to sponsor a scholarship to Loyola. They have written to the families of Jenna Burleigh, the Temple student who was murdered last summer, and Mark Dombroski, the St. Joseph’s University student who was found dead in Bermuda this spring.
Sharon Patrick took a part-time job as a recess aide at St. Andrew School, their parish grade school. Every day, she walks the path that her grandson once walked.
Focusing in on a killer
Each morning, Anthony Finocchiaro kisses a stone bearing the image of an angel next to the words “Always with you.” He puts it in his pocket, goes to work as a heavy-equipment operator, and tries to distract himself.
“I feel like I just exist at this point,” he said. “I don’t know how we do it. We just do it.”
WHO THEY WERE
Dean Finocchiaro, 19
“He just enjoyed himself and he didn’t care what anyone thought. He did love the life that he lived.” - Anthony Finocchiaro
“It’s really hard to explain. Like him and I talk, or I talk to the others, or I have some friends who have lost children,” his wife, Bonnie, said. “But you just can’t, you can’t understand. It’s empty. You’re just not the same person.”
Bonnie Finocchiaro can’t bring herself to buy milk. It reminds her of how her son Dean used to down Oreos and milk at the kitchen table.
“I can’t go in the garage. I can’t go in my shed. I can’t use my gas can because he’d always take my damn gas,” Anthony Finocchiaro said, chuckling through tears. “My gas can was always empty, and it’s so weird that it’s full all the time.”
A photo of their son riding a dirt bike sits on the mantel in his family’s living room in Langhorne. On the other side of a glass door, a sign on the porch reads: “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”
Bonnie Finocchiaro laughs, thinking about how upset she was when her son came home with those words tattooed in big letters across his left arm. Today, she has the quote tattooed — smaller — in the same spot.
In life, her son didn’t fear anything, she said — not riding his quads or dirt bikes in the street, or jumping off cliffs in Jamaica, or taking on bigger opponents in ice hockey. He lived for the extremes. Sometimes, that quality would get him into trouble.
“My son wasn’t a goody-two-shoes kid,” Anthony Finocchiaro said, “but he was a good person ... just an honest, loyal kid.”
In the months before Finocchiaro died, his father could see him maturing, caring for his new pit bull, Ace, and working 50 hours a week at Richman’s Ice Cream & Burger Co.
“MY SON WASN’T A GOODY-TWO-SHOES KID, BUT HE WAS A GOOD PERSON ... JUST AN HONEST, LOYAL KID.”
- ANTHONY FINOCCHIARO
One Friday night last July, Finocchiaro yelled to his father, who was doing laundry in the basement. He was running out to meet friends.
“I regret that I was in the basement. Because if I wasn’t in the basement, I would’ve been at that door when he walked out,” Anthony Finocchiaro said. “Would that have changed things? I don’t know. But I know (DiNardo) would’ve seen me at that door.”
Once at the farm, DiNardo, Kratz, and Finocchiaro ended up in a barn, where Finocchiaro was fatally shot.
Anthony Finocchiaro stayed up until almost midnight, calling and texting his son, getting no answer.
The next day, his son didn’t show up for work. Anthony Finocchiaro began focusing in on DiNardo. Less than two weeks before, Finocchiaro had told his mother he was getting a ride home from Richman’s with someone whose name she didn’t recognize. Someone named Cosmo.
Anthony Finocchiaro knew all his son’s friends, and loved to joke around and tease them. But he didn’t know Cosmo.
By Saturday night, Anthony Finocchiaro had images from neighbors’ security cameras of DiNardo’s truck leaving the neighborhood, as well as the address of the farm. His son’s cellphone pinged to an area near the farm.
On Sunday, Bonnie Finocchiaro and a friend walked the property, banging on windows, yelling for her son.
By Monday, the official search began. The excruciating wait continued, except now the families were together.
“It sucked,” Anthony Finocchiaro said. “Because you’d come home, and you know something is going on, but they’re not telling you anything.”
Around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities arrived at the Finocchiaros’ home. At midnight, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub would hold a news conference. They had found their son’s body.
“I knew it wasn’t good”
When her 21-year-old son went missing in July of last year, Melissa Fratanduono-Meo found a piece of paper on his bed with an address scribbled on it. She could make out “Street Road” and “Peddler’s Village.” So, in the middle of the night, she drove there.
At 2 a.m., the restless mother pulled to the side of the road in Solebury Township, not far from the DiNardo farm. She got out of the car, calling out, “Thomas, Thomas,” over and over into the darkness.
WHO THEY WERE
Tom Meo, 21
“He never judged people and he was so curious.” - Melissa Fratanduono-Meo
Perhaps her son and his friend Mark Sturgis decided to camp in the area and were out of cellphone range.
Later that day, she received a call from authorities. Meo’s car had been found on a DiNardo property near the farm. His diabetes kit was inside. He could not live without it.
“At that point, I just lost it,” she said. “I started screaming.”
Her mind would not yet allow her to imagine the worst.
“I could never think up that nightmare,” she said. “But I knew it wasn’t good, that’s for sure.”
On Friday, she had awakened her son before work and given him a kiss goodbye as he lay in bed. When he finished his construction work with Sturgis and Sturgis’ father, Meo stopped at home for a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream with his 13-year-old sister, Gabriella. She would be the last in the family to see him alive.
Fratanduono-Meo sensed something was wrong when her son’s girlfriend called the house Saturday morning to ask when he was coming to visit her in Philadelphia. She thought her son was already there.
The next few days were a blur. Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Fratanduono-Meo slept in her car at the DiNardo farm.
“I didn’t want to leave until I knew that Thomas wasn’t there,” she said.
A single mother, she was so proud of the young man she had raised. Today, she said, she tries to embody his kindness, his curiosity about the world, and the way he never judged anyone.
“I feel so sad and broken and angry,” she said. “But when I think about how Thomas was . it makes me want to go on.”
Carrying on together
“You got to work tomorrow, you big dummy. Don’t be out late,” Mark Potash jokingly told his son.
It was July 7, 2017. Mark Sturgis, 22, had just moved into an apartment at Potash’s Pennsburg home and was going to hang out with Meo. The two had talked about it earlier that day as they worked construction with Potash.
WHO THEY WERE
Mark Sturgis, 22
“If you would have met him, you would have instantly loved him.” - Mark Potash
Several hours later, Potash woke up and saw that Sturgis’ car wasn’t there.
His son was grown, he reminded himself. Perhaps he and Meo went out drinking. They would show up for work in the morning, Potash thought.
They never did.
After killing Finocchiaro, DiNardo had picked up Sturgis and Meo near the farm, where Kratz was waiting. DiNardo and Kratz shot Sturgis and Meo, then crushed Meo with a backhoe. The cousins would return the next day to dig a 12½-foot-deep hole, authorities say, and bury the bodies of their three victims.
Sturgis’ mother, Aimee Sturgis King, awoke Sunday to news that he was missing. She read that a young man named Dean Finocchiaro was missing, too, and frantically looked up the Finocchiaros’ phone number.
“I’ll never forget the conversation, because she was hysterical,” Anthony Finocchiaro said. “I didn’t even know this woman, and we just sat there and cried.”
After he gave them the farm’s address, Sturgis King; her husband, Thomas; and Potash, Sturgis’ father, headed there.
They walked the farm, and found bullet casings, a dirt pile, and backhoe tracks. They also smelled gunpowder, they said.
For the next few days, “we were just in a daze, in a fog,” Potash said. “You go through moments of sadness and you can’t even believe it’s going on. And then you find yourself having casual conversations and laughing momentarily. ... It was just an up-and-down roller coaster.”
While Sturgis’ life came to a violent end, he lived as a peacemaker, his family said. In school, he stopped fights before they started. Always bigger and more mature than his peers, he would protect smaller boys, including Meo, said his parents.
Sturgis King told DiNardo of these qualities at his sentencing.
“I didn’t think anything I had to say would get through to Cosmo DiNardo or make him feel any guilt,” she said. “Someone who is capable of doing that, one after the other, without feeling guilt, is not going to feel any guilt from listening to what pain I’m in.”
Potash is motivated now by his pursuit for answers, among them how DiNardo was allowed freedom and access to guns and equipment despite his mental state.
“I GET OUT OF BED FOR MARK, BECAUSE HE WOULDN’T WANT ME TO GIVE UP.”
- MARK POTASH
“I get out of bed for Mark, because he wouldn’t want me to give up,” Potash said. “I want to just accomplish as many dreams and goals that he shared with me, for him.”
“And I just haven’t reached a point where any of that makes me feel better yet,” Sturgis King said.
She hasn’t been able to make the macaroni and cheese that her son loved. Sometimes she sees a movie trailer and instinctively grabs her phone, thinking, “Mark’ll love this.” She wishes he could have been around to see his Eagles win the Super Bowl. His dad would have loved to talk to him about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight (Sturgis swore McGregor would win, but Mayweather did).
The other families help them carry on.
“We watched each other and sat with each other and comforted each other and cried with each other and waited with each other and prayed with each other,” Sturgis King said. “We went through everything together.”
Added Potash: “And we’ll finish it together, too.”
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com