Mystery surrounds missing Centre County DA

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Standing at a podium, the young woman grasped a legal pad and made a plea to her father, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.

"Hi, Dad," Lara Gricar began, her voice trembling. "I want you to know I love you so much. My heart aches deeply for your presence."

She told her father she'd like to hug him, and perhaps hike up a mountain together and sit and talk. Mostly, she wanted him to know how much she misses him.

Ray Gricar, 59, was reported missing Friday night after he failed to return to the home he shares with his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola. Yesterday, local authorities held a news conference, that included Lara Gricar and Fornicola.

According to Bellefonte police Chief Duane Dixon, Gricar last spoke to Fornicola around 11:30 a.m. Friday. The long-time district attorney had planned to go into the office about noon that day, but instead, he called his girlfriend, who also works in the office, and told her he was out for a drive along Route 192 in Penns Valley. He told her he would not be in at all and no one thought it was unusual.

Fornicola didn't hear from him again. On Saturday evening, the state police located Gricar's car, a Mini Cooper, parked in a small dirt lot near an antiques shop in Lewisburg, Union County, about 60 miles east of Bellefonte. There, they learned Gricar had been seen in the shop on Saturday afternoon. Gricar's car was locked, and there were no signs of foul play. His cell phone was inside.

He has not been heard from since.

Centre Daily Times via AP
Ray Gricar

"I don't have a logical theory at this point," Dixon said. "There is a possibility he just walked away for a few days to get away."

That possibility, however, has not stopped local, state and federal authorities from undertaking a large-scale investigation.

On Sunday, the state police used a helicopter to search for two hours along the banks of the Susquehanna River, near where his car was found, for any signs of Gricar. Investigators also used a bloodhound to try to pick up his scent to no avail.

They have been tracking his credit cards and bank records to see if they've been used. As of yesterday afternoon they had not. They also are checking his computer files and phone records.

The FBI has been called in to assist with some of those tasks, Dixon said. In addition, investigators are culling through Gricar's current and previous cases to see if anyone he's prosecuted could be holding a grudge.

There have been no recent threats against him, Dixon said.

"There's no one focus point," the chief said. "We have no good leads at this point."

Yesterday, Gricar was described as a hands-on prosecutor who's dedicated to his job.

He attended law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and began his legal career in Ohio where he prosecuted cases of violence, including rape, robbery and homicide.

He moved to the Centre County area in the early 1980s with his first wife, Barbara. Gricar worked as an assistant prosecutor in Centre County, before winning office in 1985.

According to courthouse records, Gricar and his first wife were married for 22 years before divorcing in 1991. Gricar married again in 1996, but that marriage, too, ended in divorce five years later.

Gricar plans to retire at the end of this term.

"Centre County was really blessed to have him here for all the years that they did," said Mark S. Smith, Gricar's first assistant district attorney.

Smith described his boss as a private person -- he kept his own calendar at work -- who is passionate about the law. Gricar was expected at work yesterday for a 9:30 a.m. hearing. Though he'd been missing throughout the weekend, it was his failure to show up for work that convinced his colleagues something was wrong.

Typically, Smith said, Gricar keeps his cell phone with him to stay in touch with the office even when he's on vacation.

Once before, Gricar took off for a day-and-a-half to drive to Ohio for a ball game, Dixon said. In that instance, though, no one reported him missing.

Also mentioned yesterday was the death of Gricar's brother. Roy J. Gricar went missing in May 1996 in West Chester, Ohio. After a week, his body was found in the Great Miami River. His death was ruled suicide by drowning. There was no information connecting that case to the current one, Dixon said.

Though police are investigating every possible scenario, Gricar's family seemed to be leaning toward the idea that he had taken off on his own.

"I will wait as long as it takes to hear from you," concluded Lara Gricar, who lives in Washington state. "I love you so much. Please call."

Fornicola also spoke briefly at the news conference. She, too, directed her comments directly to Gricar.

"Ray, I love you very much, and I miss you," Fornicola said. "I want you to come home. Please call us. We will wait as long as we have to."

The two share Fornicola's childhood home on Halfmoon Hill in Bellefonte. The house, a modest, pale-yellow sided home had three unmarked police cars parked there yesterday afternoon. Since Gricar moved in more than 18 months ago, one neighbor said, the couple had added a garden and a small patio out back.

"We're all praying for a safe return," said neighbor Barbara Duncan. "We're just waiting for him to come back."

Duncan worked with Fornicola years ago, before she moved into the same neighborhood more than a year ago. Gricar, she said, was friendly, and well-thought of throughout the community.

"When you see him on TV, that's who he is, earnest, amiable," Duncan said. "Everybody's just stunned. Like, where is Ray?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Paula Reed Ward can be reached at or 412-263-1601.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?