Carla and Michael Stern are the parents of Sarah Stern, the 19-year-old New Jersey native who was murdered in December 2016 by her high school friend, Liam McAtasney. Michael Stern has a message for his daughter’s convicted killer. He told ABC’s 20/20 on Friday: “Go to jail, don’t ever come out.”
Sarah Stern’s murder is being featured on Friday’s edition of ABC’s 20/20. Her death has been explored by other docuseries, including NBC’s Dateline, MTV’s True Life Crime and Injustice with Nancy Grace.
Stern was killed by her childhood friend Liam McAtasney. At his trial, McAtasney was accused of strangling Stern to death so he could steal her money. He recruited his former roommate Preston Taylor, who was Stern’s junior prom date. Taylor assisted with getting rid of Sarah Stern’s body for money.
McAtasney thought he would be getting up to $100,000 from Stern, but walked away with $10,000, something he complained about to friend Anthony Curry. Curry helped break the case, telling police about McAtasney’s confession in January 2017. He agreed to meet with McAtasney, as police officers secretly filmed their rendezvous.
The chilling video showed McAtasney confessing to murdering Stern. “I took me a half-hour to kill her,” McAtasney said on the video. “Her dog laid there and watched while I killed her and didn’t do anything.”
He was most upset about not getting more money after the killing. “That’s not even the worst part,” McAtasney told Curry. He was referring to talking to the police.
“The worst part of it is I thought I was going to come out $50,000 to $100,000 in my pocket. She had one safe that she took money out, and she only had $10,000,” he said. “And this money, I don’t know if it was burnt or something, it’s f—ing old money. Terrible quality. I don’t even know if I can put any of it in the f—ing bank.”
“I did something really dumb and planned it out for a half a year,” McAtasney said to Curry. “I don’t feel any different,” he said. “I don’t think about it.”
McAtasney was convicted in February 2019 of first-degree murder, desecrating human remains, robbery, and other charges. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Sarah Stern’s body was never found and McAtasney still maintains his innocence.
Sarah Stern’s father told 20/20 that his daughter got the justice she deserved when McAtasney was sentenced. To find out more about Sarah Stern’s parents, continue reading for five fast facts:
1. Michael Stern Called McAtasney an ‘Evil Person’
- After McAtasney was found guilty, Michael Stern wants his daughter’s killer to spend the rest of his life behind bars. When 20/20 asked what he would say to McAtasney if he could, Michael Stern said he would tell him he’s vile.
- “‘You’re an evil person. You shouldn’t exist on this earth,'” Stern told 20/20. “I don’t want to ever talk to him. I don’t want to ever face him. I don’t want to have to deal with him or his family… Go to jail, don’t ever come out.”
When asked about how he felt after the guilty verdict, Michael Stern said he felt like his daughter got her justice.
2. Stern Was Shocked When He Found out His Daughter’s Friends Were Involved
A month after McAtasney and Taylor were identified as suspects, Michael Stern struggled to understand what happened to his daughter.
“It’s a feeling of hurt,” Michael Stern told the Asbury Park Press. “Emptiness. Just like being knocked over and then kicked. It takes your breath away. It’s a horrible feeling. Indescribable. Pain. Suffering.”
Her death at the hands of her former friends felt like a betrayal. “It’s just strange,” Michael Stern told the publication. “I can’t believe the deceit and lies.”
“When I heard this, nothing made sense anymore,” Michael Stern told NJ Advance Media in February 2017.
3. Michael Stern Said He Was Haunted by His Daughter’s Death
Leading into McAtasney and Taylor being sentenced, Michael Stern said he felt like he was being “haunted” by her death. “Sarah’s death just haunts me,” he told the Asbury Park Press in a June 2019 story. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
Being the sentencing, Michael Stern said he didn’t have anything to say to McAtasney. “I don’t want to hear anything from him — not a thing,” he said.
He just wanted the case to be over with. “It’s been tough,” Michael Stern said. “There’s a lot of sadness that follows everything,” he said.
4. Michael Stern Feels ‘Empty’ Without His Daughter
Life without his daughter hasn’t been easy. A year after her death, Michael Stern talked to NJ.com about what it’s been like for him.
“It left my world pretty empty,” he told the publication. “Nothing made any sense.”
At the time of the interview, Taylor and McAtasney had not yet stood trial. “I don’t know how justice is going to be served, but the two of them certainly don’t deserve to live either,” Michael Stern said at the time. “Let their families suffer, too. They can go visit them in jail, bring them things. Lock them away, so nobody can get to them.”
Michael Stern said that since his daughter’s death, things got “progressively worse.”
“When you have friends and family move away, you know you’re going to see them again,” he said. “There’s no coming back for Sarah. No more holidays, no more birthdays, no memories to share.”
5. Sarah Stern’s Mother from Cancer in 2013
One of the things struggled to deal with before her own untimely death was the death of her mother, Carla Stern. Carla Stern died in 2013 at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia after a battle with cancer.
Carla Stern was born in the same city they raised Sarah, Neptune City, New Jersey. She ran a book store and was a member of the American Booksellers Association for more than 25 years.
She loved to travel, with her favorite trips being to Italy and Hawaii. Carla Stern also enjoyed going to Disney World with her family and friends.
To see more of Sarah Stern’s story, don’t miss 20/20 on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.