A press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office …
Two Neptune City teens have been charged in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Sarah Stern, who has been missing since early December, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.
The arrests end a nearly two-month-long search for the missing teen, last seen alive on Dec. 2.
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 Dec. 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.
These arrests 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 Dec. 2, 2016. An investigation was launched after her 1994 silver, four-door Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, 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 Stern’s, 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 Stern’s vehicle being found unoccupied and on the bridge, the Belmar Water Rescue Team was called to search Shark River for any evidence of her body. The Belmar Water Rescue Team was 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. Those assets searched the Shark River with divers, boats and helicopters, but, to date, attempts to locate Stern have been unsuccessful.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office joined the investigation in an effort to locate 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 this investigation.
Recent developments in the investigation led detectives to McAtasney and Taylor and culminated in their 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.