FREEHOLD-On Friday, February 3, 2017, troopers from the New Jersey State Police Marine Bureau, Point Pleasant Station, began a secondary search of the Shark River for Sarah Stern’s remains, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. As a result of recent incidents and the charges filed against Liam McAtasney and Preston Taylor for the murder of 19 year-old Sarah Stern who was last seen alive on December 2, the search for her remains continues in the area of the Shark River, Prosecutor Gramiccioni said.
“The search of the Shark River continues as we partner with the State Police and we hope to locate the remains of Sarah Stern.
It is possible due to oceanic currents and tides that her remains might have been swept out of the river into the Atlantic. But we are hoping for a miracle,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni said. The search and recovery operation to locate Stern’s remains is expected to continue into the weekend.
The secondary search for Stern’s remains gets underway after an extensive search of waters and area since the beginning of December when she disappeared and her vehicle was found abandoned on the shoulder of the southbound lane of the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar. To date, multiple agencies, including Belmar Water Rescue Team, assisted by the United States Coast Guard, the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, the Area Network of Shore Water Emergency Responders Team, and the New Jersey State Police have participated in the search for Stern in the Shark River. Those assets searched the Shark River with divers, boats and helicopters, but, to date, attempts to locate Stern have been unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, February 1, 2017, the Neptune City Police Department charged Liam McAtasney, 19, of Neptune City with first degree Murder, first degree Felony Murder, first degree Robbery, second degree Desecration of Human Remains, second degree Conspiracy (to Desecrate Human Remains) and second degree Hindering Apprehension. Preston Taylor, 19, also of Neptune City, was charged with second degree Desecration of Human Remains, second degree Conspiracy (to Desecrate Human Remains) and second degree Hindering Apprehension. Detectives determined that McAtasney was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on December 2, 2016. The investigation also revealed that Taylor provided assistance to McAtasney in moving and ultimately disposing of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection.
On Sunday, December 4, detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office joined the investigation in an effort to locate Sarah Stern. Detectives from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Belmar and Neptune City Police Departments have continued to investigate her whereabouts since that time. The New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have also assisted in the investigation.
Photo: stock photo, New Jersey state police.
The arrests of McAtasney and Taylor are the culmination of an almost two-month investigation into the whereabouts of Stern, who was last seen at her Neptune City residence on the afternoon of December 2, 2016. An investigation was launched after her 1994 silver, four-door Oldsmobile EightyEight, was found abandoned on the shoulder of the southbound lane of the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar. Neptune Township Police were alerted to the vehicle by a passerby.
Stern’s deserted car was operational and the keys were found in the vehicle. At that time, no persons were in the area and the vehicle was subsequently towed from the road by the Neptune Township Police Department.
The Neptune Township Police Department contacted the Neptune City Police Department to request a welfare check of the registered owner of the vehicle. Upon arrival at the address of the registered owner, who is a family member of the missing girl, the residence was found unlocked and no one was home. Further investigation determined Sarah Stern was the missing driver of the vehicle and her family did not know of her whereabouts.
As a result of the investigation, detectives determined that McAtasney was responsible for killing Stern and stealing property from her on December 2, 2016. The investigation has also revealed that Taylor provided assistance to McAtasney in moving and ultimately disposing of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection. Both McAtasney and Taylor appeared in court on Thursday, February 2, 2017, where they were formally charged. Both men remain in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, awaiting detention hearings.
Despite these arrests, anyone with information that may assist in this investigation is asked to contact Detective Brian Weisbrot from the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office at (800) 533-7443, Detective Michael Vollbrecht of the Neptune City Police Department at (732) 775-1615, or Detective John Mahoney from the Belmar Police Department at (732) 681-1700.
The case is assigned to Assistant Prosecutor Christopher J. Decker, Director of the Office’s Major Crimes Bureau.
Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about a crime can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; can text “MONMOUTH” plus their tip to 274637; or, they can email a tip via the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com. Monmouth County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of criminals and fugitives.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and State law.