A 19-year-old Neptune City, New Jersey, woman whose car was found abandoned on a Belmar bridge in December and who police initially thought jumped off of the bridge to her death is now believed to have been robbed, strangled to death and thrown off of it.
Two people Sarah Stern knew have been arrested.
Liam McAtasney, 19, and Preston Taylor, also 19, have been arrested in connection with Stern’s disappearance.
McAtasney faces charges of murder, felony murder, robbery, disturbing human remains, conspiring with another to disturb human remains and hindering apprehension or prosecution, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Taylor is himself charged with disturbing human remains, conspiring to disturb human remains and hindering apprehension or prosecution for his alleged involvement.
McAtasney is accused of strangling Stern to death in her home, robbing her of “large quantities of cash” she had withdrawn from her bank account, moving the body with the help of his friend Preston Taylor and throwing the victim off of the Belmar bridge, leaving her car abandoned to lead authorities to the preliminary conclusion that Stern had jumped.
The question has, of course, been asked as to how it might have been known that Stern had such cash on hand and why.
NBC New York reported that it was a Crime Stoppers tip that led police to McAtasney.
The tip alleged that he “somehow knew about the cash withdrawal and came to Stern’s home to rob her.”
Taylor, McAtasney and Stern were classmates at Neptune High School and graduated in 2015.
Stern and Taylor even appeared in a photo together on the deceased’s Facebook page three years ago. Stern described him as “her friend Preston.”
McAtasney’s attorney, Chuck Moriarty, said his client’s family and the family of the victim were friends.
“I know the families were close. The families were friends. If she is dead, it’s a tragedy,” he said.
The Monmouth County prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said both Preston and McAtasney knew Stern.
“We know they had a pre-existing relationship with Sarah Stern, growing up in the same area,” he said.
According to News 12, friends said McAtasney and Taylor participated in search parties for her.
Stern’s body has not and may never be found.
Gramiccioni said he believes Stern’s body was swept away by ocean currents.
“We believe with the river currents and the ocean currents, it was swept out to sea,” he said.
Stern disappeared on Dec. 2. Her grieving father, Michael Stern, spoke with NJ.com after her disappearance and still had hope that she would come home.
“I feel lousy and heartbroken. They haven’t come up with too many new leads. There are so many unanswered questions. We’re at a loss, really,” he said. “It’s a gut-wrenching experience that no parent should have to go through. I love my daughter, and I just wish she would come home.”
Since that time, Stern has had to endure courtroom appearances and the horrific details of his daughter’s murder.
“She didn’t deserve this. This is just horrible,” he said.
Sarah Stern was his only child.