SOMERS POINT — The family of Sam DeLarso, a father, husband and grandfather who lives with his extended family in a modest Somers Point home decorated inside and out with fishing gear, was struggling to stay positive more than a week after he went missing Oct. 20 while catching bait for a fishing trip later that day.
“We’re grasping at straws. We feel so helpless,” his daughter, Samantha DeLarso, said Friday, Oct. 26, noting that complete strangers are walking the beaches and searching in small boats and kayaks to try to find her father. “Everybody has been so helpful, it’s been beautiful.”
But after another weekend passed without any word from or about her father, her hopes have faded and stark reality has begun to set in.
“I don’t think we are going to get any good news, because without his medication he would be in agony,” DeLarso said Monday, adding that she is still “holding onto hope that there is some crazy fishing story attached to this” but also “praying that with the storm, that it would bring some closure.”
DeLarso was last seen by family members early that Saturday morning before leaving his home to go crabbing. She said her mother, Sandra DeLarso, began to worry when he did not return after a couple of hours.
“It’s usually a two-hour endeavor,” Samantha DeLarso said.
One of her brothers found their father’s truck parked on West Newcastle Road in Ocean City. She said his cellphone was inside, something that was not out of the ordinary since he had damaged several in the past.
“The only thing missing was his crab bucket,” she said, describing it as a bucket attached to a strap that he would empty his nets into while standing in waist-deep water.
DeLarso is described as a 53-year-old white male, 6 feet, 2 inches tall, 200 pounds with salt and pepper hair and a mustache. He was wearing blue jeans, a button-down shirt, waders and a diamond earring in his left ear.
The U.S. Coast Guard, State Police Marine Unit, Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and Ocean City Police Department conducted a 12-hour search of the area but found nothing.
“I don’t know if he had a heart attack … he had a situation with a brown shark getting caught and dragging him out. It could be something super bizarre,” Samantha DeLarso said Friday.
There was little information as the investigation into his disappearance continued.
Detective Sgt. Stephen Sullivan of the Ocean City Police Department said Monday there had been no new developments.
“We are conducting an active missing person’s case and chasing down any and all leads to his whereabouts,” Sullivan said.
DeLarso said authorities have video surveillance of her father’s truck crossing the bridge at 5:31 a.m. and parking at the base of the Ocean City-Longport Bridge.
“A man who reached out said he was driving his truck on the beach between 7 and 8 a.m. and saw a man crabbing alone. He didn’t seem in distress,” DeLarso said.
She said surveillance video shows a truck leaving the beach at 8:30 a.m. Police believe that truck was driven by the person who reported seeing her father, and they were trying to determine who that was.
Meanwhile, DeLarso has reached out to the public via Facebook in an attempt to find her father.
“Please help find my Dad! We NEED him BACK! PLEASE!” she posted on the social media platform.
Born and raised in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, Sam and Sandra met at 16, married and moved to Somers Point in 1988. They have lived in the same house for 26 years, their daughter said.
Samantha DeLarso said her entire family — she, her mother, her fiancé, two daughters and brothers Joshua and Jacob — “lives, eats and breathes fishing.”
She said that while fishing is a hobby for the whole family, to her father, it was his life.
“If he died, he died doing exactly what he loved and right where he wanted to be,” she said. “That would give me a little bit of peace, knowing he wasn’t dying sick in a bed.”
In the summer, they would go out as many as six days a week to catch fish, often casting from the pier on the Atlantic County side of the Ocean City-Longport Bridge. That’s why she is having a hard time believing her father simply fell and drowned.
“It’s just not making sense,” she said. “Nobody knows the water like he knows the water.”
Her father taught the whole family to respect the sea.
“He embedded in us to focus, to concentrate, always be aware, always keep your footing and if you’re tired, to go to the beach. He’s instilled that in us. It almost seems impossible,” she said.
Police do not suspect foul play, she said, but did take his car and telephone as part of the investigation. She said if someone did do her father harm, it could be because he was adamant about catching fish in season and according to regulations.
“He had no qualms about calling police on people catching out of season,” she said. “He felt like they were raping the waters.”
DeLarso said her father has a bad back, saying it’s a miracle he is even walking because he was bed-bound for years and weighed almost 400 pounds. She said after his first granddaughter was born, he lost 200 pounds.
“We got him back for a while,” she said. “And now he’s gone again.”
She said relatives and friends are visiting and they are taking it day by day.
“We all have our moments. I feel like we’re riding the world’s worst roller-coaster,” she said.
The family asked people to be on the lookout for items that DeLarso had on him, including a black hard cigarette pack, a headlamp, black batting gloves, crab nets — which she described as having 1-pound in the shape of a horseshoe with a rectangle at the bottom and a carabiner hook at end to hook onto a belt — a 2.5-gallon white bucket with holes drilled in the sides and bottom with a strap, a Zippo lighter — either silver with a silver dime welded to the front or silver with a picture of a fish on it — a silver ring with copper coils wrapped around it and a necklace made of about 20 to 30 small key rings with a hook charm, and sunglasses with a cloth strap.
Anyone who finds any of these items is asked to contact the family at (609) 992-3103 or the Ocean City Police Department at (609) 399-9111. In addition, a Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the family with expenses. Those wishing to donate should visit gofundme.com/helping-sam-delarso039s-family.