The discovery of Ray Gricar's laptop in the Susquehanna River on Saturday is the first piece of hard evidence police have found in months, though it leaves investigators and family members no closer to an answer as to what happened to the missing district attorney.
Two fishermen noticed the laptop under the state Route 45 bridge in Lewisburg around 10 a.m. Saturday and scooped it out of the water with a net, according to Bellefonte Police Chief Duane Dixon.
When they saw the Centre County Commissioners inventory tag on it, they called state police.
A forensic computer specialist with the state police began analyzing the computer immediately and discovered the hard drive was missing.
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"It's useless, basically," Dixon said. "We can get no information off it."
Gricar used the computer mostly to research and prepare for cases, according to police and family members. It is unlikely that Gricar was investigating a case on his own, Dixon said, or that the laptop contained sensitive material to a case that existed solely on that computer. Police officers usually forwarded findings from an investigation to Gricar for review, Dixon said.
It also is unlikely that Gricar had much personal information saved on the laptop's hard drive, Dixon said, because he had a personal computer at the house.
For the laptop to end up where it did, police believe the computer was thrown from the bridge, which was a short distance from where Gricar's car was found the day after he was reported missing. There is no way of telling how long the laptop had been in the water, nor is there a way to get fingerprints from it, Dixon said.
Although dive teams searched the river in April, they might not have searched in the spot where the laptop was found, or they might have missed it, Dixon said.
Right now, the river is about four and a half to five feet deep -- shallower than it was in April -- and relatively clear.
Dive teams from the Sunbury Fire Department searched the river Saturday and Sunday but found nothing else of note, Dixon said.
Gricar has been missing since April 15, when he took the day off and went for a drive on state Route 192 in Brush Valley. Cell-phone records show he called his office at about 11:30 a.m. that day. His girlfriend and housemate Patty Fornicola, who works as a clerk in the District Attorney's Office, took the call and said he told her he was taking a drive and would not be home to let the dog out.
When he hadn't returned home by 11:30 p.m., Fornicola reported him missing.
The red-and-white Mini Cooper was found in a Lewisburg parking lot April 16. There were no signs of foul play found in or near the car. His keys and sunglasses remain missing. There has been no activity on his credit cards or in his bank accounts since his disappearance, police said.
The new developments in the case are both frustrating and heartening for the family, according to Gricar's nephew Tony Gricar. Police notified him of their discovery Sunday, he said.
"It was the first time I've been shocked since I got the phone call that he was missing," Tony Gricar said. "It's great that there's finally a piece of forensic evidence. But the fact that the hard drive is missing is a cause for concern."
Although Dixon said the missing hard drive could back up just about any theory floating around out there, Tony Gricar said many family members believe it could mean Ray Gricar was killed.
"Everybody is pretty upset," he said. "It's tough thinking there's the possibility of foul play."
Tony Gricar said his uncle was "not a technophile" and might not have known how to remove the hard drive.
Fornicola did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
Many others keeping tabs on the case also believe the missing hard drive strengthens the theories revolving around homicide.
"It reconfirms in my mind that he's the object of foul play," said Clinton County District Attorney Ted McKnight.
"Could he have removed (the hard drive)? Yes. Do I think he did? No."
Union County Sheriff John P. Schrawder, who has helped Bellefonte police with the investigation and whose courthouse office is a few blocks from the Route 45 bridge, reflected on the 14 weeks that have passed since Gricar disappeared.
"I've been telling myself from day one that he's here," Schrawder said. "He's here. He's here, here, here. And he's dead."
Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616. Staff writer Mike Joseph contributed to this report.