New York

Missing 19-Year-Old New Jersey Student Was Strangled During Botched Robbery, Thrown off Bridge: Prosecutors

Liam McAtasney is accused of killing Sarah Stern, while Preston Taylor allegedly helped him try to cover up the crime.

What to Know

  • Sarah Stern vanished from her Neptune City home the afternoon of Dec. 2
  • Her fully operational vehicle was found on the side of the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar; investigators found no evidence in the water
  • The young woman's body still hasn't been found

A 19-year-old man faces first-degree felony murder and other charges in the disappearance of Sarah Stern, the 19-year-old New Jersey woman who vanished from her home in early December, and another young man is accused of helping him try to cover up the crime. 

Sarah Stern's body has not been found. According to prosecutors, Liam McAtasney strangled the young woman in the course of committing a robbery at her Neptune City home Dec. 2. A second 19-year-old man, Preston Taylor, allegedly helped McAtasney get Stern's body out of the house and throw her over the Route 35 Bridge in Belmar, prosecutors say. 

Taylor faces charges of conspiracy, hindering apprehension and other crimes. Prosecutors say McAtasney and Taylor, who lived in the same town as Stern, were longtime acquaintances of the teen. 

The arrests announced Thursday are the culmination of a nearly two-month investigation into Stern's disapperance. Her fully operational 1994 silver, four-door Oldsmobile Eight-Eight was found abandoned on the shoulder of the southbound lanes of the bridge, and many assumed she killed herself. Prosecutors say some hoped she had simply run away after withdrawing a large amount of money from her bank account. 

A Crime Stoppers tip led police to McAtasney as their suspect, alleging he somehow knew about the cash withdrawal and came to Stern's home to rob her. 

Specialized divers and water rescuers scoured the Shark River for any evidence of Stern after her car was located, but none was found. 

McAtasney and Taylor appeared in court Thursday. It wasn't immediately clear if either man had retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf. 

Stern was a student at Neptune High School, where she played softball and was a member of the swim team.

"Everybody liked this child, so this is just devastating to the family," Charles Stone, the family's attorney, said Thursday. "This is the worst thing that could happen. It's just unfathomable." 

Earlier this month, the missing woman's father, Michael Stern, said the family was at a loss, especially after Stern's mother died three years ago, and the holidays were particularly difficult. He said his daughter loved Christmas. 

"It's a gut-wrenching experience that no parent should have to go through," Michael Stern told

The family left court Thursday, asking for privacy. 

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