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Westmoreland

Missing Unity woman's family hopes to mount their own search

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, May 23, 2018, 5:30 p.m.
Friends and family of Cassandra Gross gather around a portrait of her during a candlelight vigil May 12, 2018, at Legion Keener Park in Latrobe. Gross, of Unity, has been missing since April 7.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Friends and family of Cassandra Gross gather around a portrait of her during a candlelight vigil May 12, 2018, at Legion Keener Park in Latrobe. Gross, of Unity, has been missing since April 7.
Cassandra Gross
Cassandra Gross
Cassandra Edlyn Gross
Pennsylvania State Police
Cassandra Edlyn Gross

Cassandra Gross' family and friends want desperately to search for her. For more than six weeks, they've wondered where the missing 51-year-old Unity woman could be.

“Our goal is to get a search as soon as possible,” said friend Shawn Hunter, who has enlisted the help of national group Bring Our Missing Home Inc. “We would like the participation of the state police.”

But troopers investigating her disappearance have concerns about members of the public conducting searches on their own.

“With that said, we are not discouraging anyone from helping,” Trooper Steve Limani said Wednesday. “All we ask is for any information to come directly to the state police in Greensburg.”

Gross was reported missing April 9, two days after she last spoke with her mother and was last seen by friends. Her burned red 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander was spotted on April 10 by Norfolk Southern employees in a wooded area along train tracks near Twin Lakes Park. In the days afterward, troopers were seen searching two Unity properties owned by Thomas G. Stanko, 47, who is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison on unrelated charges.

Stanko has denied any involvement. No arrests have been made in Gross' disappearance.

Not being able to look for Gross has been “frustrating and aggravating” for her mother, Kathe Gross.

“(Police) say that it would hinder their investigation,” she said.

Cathy Rhodes is the founder of Bring Our Missing Home, a volunteer organization that helps families with missing loved ones. She said she is in the planning stage of organizing a search and will touch base with authorities.

However, she said, police may not want citizens out searching.

The Georgia-based organization assisted in the search for Leah Owens, 31, a Fayette County woman who went missing last year, Rhodes said. Her killer led police in October to a remote spot where he had buried Owens.

Limani said concerns investigators have include: location of the search for Gross; how any evidence found may be handled; and searchers accidentally compromising evidence found.

Hunter hopes to have the support and assistance from Bring Our Missing Home and state police.

“We need to do it,” he said.

Organizers want to look in a triangle-shaped area of Unity that includes the railroad tracks — between Beatty Crossroads, the park where Gross' SUV was found and a nearby lake not in the park, Hunter said. Gross' dog, which is blind, was found along Beatty County Road.

“Pennsylvania State Police need to communicate with Bring Our Missing Home so we can get help from a national organization,” Hunter said.

Troopers continue to follow leads and are open to searching areas based on information received, Limani said.

“We are absolutely still looking for Ms. Gross,” he said. “Our investigators eat, sleep and breathe her disappearance.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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