The Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial in a wooded cul-de-sac in Newtown, Bucks County, has become a healing place after really bad things happen.
On Sunday night, about 1,500 came to pay their respects at a vigil for the four local men whose bodies were discovered on a sprawling 90-acre Solebury Township farm just days ago not far from Memorial Garden.
The stunning events of the last week were still reverberating hard in this area, where all four lived and went to school.
“When I saw his picture on the news that he was missing, I turned to my mom and said, `He’ll be OK. He’ll be home soon,’ ” said Kaitlyn Masone, 19, of Newtown Township, of her childhood friend Jimi Taro Patrick, as she wept softly at the vigil. She held up a photo of Patrick and herself, sitting side by side on the grass when they were both 5, after the two had just gone bike riding.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said.
Patrick, 19, of Newtown, was one of our young men with plenty of promise whose lives were cut brutally short. The three others were Mark P. Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg; Thomas C. Meo, 21, of Plumstead; and Dean A. Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown Township.
Two men about the same age as the victims – cousins Cosmo DiNardo and Sean Kratz, both 20 – were charged on Friday for the deaths in what police investigators say was a drug deal gone horribly bad.
For those at Sunday’s vigil, there was a palpable sense of anguish and grief, but also of trying to come to grips with the unimaginable – that evil exists, and in a heartbeat, it can destroy four families and take away a son, brother, boyfriend, best friend, co-worker.
“I don’t even care about the circumstances of the crime. No one deserves this. No one,” said Jon Connolly, 32, of Montgomery County, who worked with Sturgis and Meo at a construction company.
Connolly was among the hundreds who walked silently along Woodside Road to get to the vigil just prior to its 7:30 p.m. start. He said he last saw his colleagues on Friday morning, July 7.
“I know Mark’s father,” he said. “The dad is a great guy, just like his son. What do you say about something like this? This is as horrible as it gets.”
The magnitude of last week’s search for the missing men brought together police and law enforcement agencies from all levels and thrust Bucks County – an area known more for picturesque cornfields and scenic drives along the Delaware Canal than for homicides – into the national spotlight.
Exactly one week before the vigil, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub reported four young men missing in the county, “ranging in age from late teens to early 20s.”
County police dispatchers put out a desperate plea for any information that Sunday night on what was originally two missing Bucks County men – Finocchiaro and Patrick – which later grew to include Meo and Sturgis as also missing.
Family members and friends also began their pleas on Facebook with photos of the victims’ faces that Sunday. There was a special sense of urgency on one Facebook post seeking leads since Meo had diabetes and needed his kit.
But the horror was just beginning.
In the ensuing days, events unfolded with new details more gruesome than those from the day before.
An unsavory portrait of DiNardo emerged as a troubled young man with an affinity for guns and a nascent marijuana dealing business.
Then news footage began of the excavation by investigators on DiNardo’s family’s Solebury farm off Lower York Road for 90-plus hours in the stifling heat. Family members, clinging to hope that their loved ones would be found alive, camped out at the farm as police conducted the exhaustive search, the largest in the county’s history.
The body of Finnochiaro was the first to be positively identified, discovered with the remains of what turned out to be Meo and Sturgis, last Wednesday, buried 12½ feet underground in a metal tank that the suspects referred to as “the pig roaster.”
Several police cars and officers in full uniform were present at the vigil and praised by clergy for their role in “bringing our boys home,” said the Rev. Leah Miller of Anchor Presbyterian Church in Wrightstown Township.
Matthew Schuler, a finalist from The Voice who is from Bucks County, sang “Hallelujah,” in tribute to the victims. “We lost four lives to this senseless crime,” he said. “It’s touched the whole community.”
DiNardo, of Bensalem, and Kratz, of Northeast Philadelphia, were taken into police custody late last week and held without bail. Both are facing charges including homicide, robbery, conspiracy, and abuse of corpse.
For the victims’ families, the healing may never end. But 9/11 widower Ellen Saracini, 58, of Yardley, who lost her husband in the terrorist attacks and helped create the Memorial Garden in 2007 to celebrate the anniversary of the attacks, and where now families and friends gather each year on Sept. 11, reassured them “they were not alone.”
“May this candlelight vigil and our prayers be the light after darkness that brings some healing and solace to the families,” she said behind a podium. “We as a community will remain a rock to support all those in times of great tragedy.”