More than 1,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Yardley on Sunday evening to remember the lives of four young Bucks County men found buried at a 90-acre family farm, days after prosecutors charged two cousins with murder for allegedly carrying out the acts.
As the sun fell over the crowd at the Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial, Ellen Saracini called for harmony amid the despair.
People, she said, have an uncanny ability to spring back from unspeakable tragedies. Saracini lost her husband, a pilot, in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We as a community are here tonight to offer our prayers for the souls of our boys from Bucks County," Saracini said. "And we as a community remain as a rock. We are strong, and we support any family in any kind of tragedy."
Some in the crowd consoled each other with a shoulder rub or embrace. Others wiped tears away. Then Rev. Leah Miller of nearby Anchor Presbyterian Church took the podium.
"Pittsburgh native Fred Rogers once said, 'when I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, My mother would say to me, 'look for the helpers,''" Miller said, pausing to take in the droves of people packed around the memorial site. "Today I stand here heartbroken, yet also grateful, and hopeful because I see our helpers. Bucks County has already begun to witness light flooding out the darkness."
Kaitlyn Masone was among those listening with rapt attention, fighting back tears. She grew up with one of the victims, 19-year-old Jimi Patrick. As kids, they often played together. They were raised on the same street in Newtown Township. She brought of a photo of her and Patrick with her to the vigil, showing the two of them, 5-years-old at the time, after a bicycle ride together.
"It is meaningful to know that so many people cared about these boys, and I know I cared about Jimi. I cared about his family, and my heart is still broken, and it's still breaking," Masone, 19, said tearfully after the vigil.
A week ago, authorities announced the four men missing: Patrick, Mark Sturgis, 22, Thomas Meo, 21 and Dean Finocchiaro, 19. It set off an investigation by local authorities and the FBI that included cadaver dogs, search helicopters and an excavation site in the bucolic swath of Bucks County, a scene that gripped the region and the nation.
Then investigators had a grim break in the case: they found the remains of Finocchiaro and others buried 12 feet underground on the family farm of Cosmo DiNardo, a former schoolmate of some of the victims. The grisly details of the killingsbegan to trickle out.
Prosecutors depicted the acts as relatively small drug deals gone terribly wrong.
Back at the vigil, Carol Harrison remembered Patrick. Her son used to play baseball with him. It was those and other childhood memories that now feel so precious, she said.
"It's just been a tragedy, and everybody has been involved in the feeling of it," Harrison said.
One of the alleged perpetrators, DiNardo, reportedly struggled with mental-health issues and previously had been committed for treatment. Prosecutors said DiNardo had once been diagnosed with schizophrenia. But he still had access to weapons. Harrison said there should be hard lessons learned from the killings.
"I'd like to see when there's warning signs that something is done. I think that doesn't happen enough," she said. "When you see it like that, with all the horrible things in the world. When you see a warning sign, can we all just do something about it?"
The vigil felt deeply personal to Josh Shapey. He and one of the victims, 21-year-old Tom Meo, knew each other since elementary school.
"He was probably one of the most honorable and sincere people I've met my whole time at Bensalem. He was always thinking about other people," Shapey said.
It is going to take a lot of healing, Shapey said, to recover from the spine-chilling death of his former friend and three other local young men whose remains were discovered.
"Words don't describe this," he said. "There are no words that can describe this. So, what I really think we need to do is take this in in reflect, and really analyze our own lives."
Bucks County native Matthew Schuler, a former contestant on NBC's "The Voice," wound the night down with a rendition of "Hallelujah," the Leonard Cohen song made popular by several other artists.
Beth Jobson, a hair stylist who used to work with the mother of one of the victims, said she came out to demonstrate to the families that they are not alone.
"None of us know why bad things happen," Jobson said. "But they do. Hopefully we learn to live with our losses and continue on."
DiNardo and his cousin, Sean Kratz, both 20 years old, are in custody on murder and other charges. Prosecutors said last week that they may never know why a series of separate marijuana transactions morphed into grisly murder.
DiNardo and Kratz have not yet made any court appearance or entered pleas, though a defense lawyer for DiNardo told reporters last week that his client will plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.