Published April 24, 2017 by the Asbury Park Press
NEPTUNE CITY – Michael Stern bowed his head and wiped his eyes in the Freehold courtroom as the accomplice in his 19-year-old daughter’s killing confessed to helping dispose of her body.
Preston Taylor, 19, of Neptune, pleaded guilty Monday to six crimes in connection with Sarah Stern’s killing, acts prosecutors say he committed for a $3,000 cut of money stolen from her, a total of about $10,000.
“You heard what they said, it was all about money,” Michael Stern told the Asbury Park Press on his Neptune City front porch on a chilly spring afternoon. “And a few thousand dollars. Picture somebody you love and care about – either a son, a daughter, sister or brother, mother, father – and think about them being killed over a few thousand dollars. Not an accident – this is how you’re going to hide the robbery, by killing somebody.”
“A few thousand dollars,” he said again, his voice low, trailing off.
Stern expected the indictment that was issued Monday against Liam McAtasney, 19, of Neptune City, the man accused of strangling and robbing Stern’s daughter. But Stern also watched as Taylor confessed to his crimes, filling in more details about what happened to his only child.
“It makes me sick,” he said. “I was having a tough time in the courtroom, hearing that stuff out of the person that did it.”
Sarah attended Neptune High School, along with Taylor and McAtasney, graduating in 2015. She loved engaging with YouTube personalities and attended conferences for fans of online video in New York City, Anaheim, California, and Toronto.
Stern said an art guild in Shrewsbury is preparing a show featuring Sarah’s work, from movie props to pencil sketches. She was featured at the guild in her senior year of high school for a mixed media piece and participated for a few years in the teen arts festival at Brookdale Community College, Middletown.
Stern said he would like to organize a scholarship in Sarah’s name for students of the arts.
Sarah’s remains haven’t been recovered, stalling plans for a funeral, but Stern said he hopes to hold a memorial to celebrate Sarah’s life.
Stern carries on, but handling the grief hasn’t gotten easier.
“It becomes kind of a melancholy thing where you’re glad for the memories, but sad for the loss,” he said.
“I know nothing that we say or do can ever bring Sarah back,” Stern said. “You know, we try to keep her spirit alive.”
After Taylor entered his guilty pleas, Stern left the courtroom leaning on the shoulder of a woman with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. They packed into an elevator among other officials. He bowed his head as the doors slowly closed.