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Death of Mercer student Nick Pratico shakes community

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The body of Mercer student Nicholas Pratico was found in the woods across Old Trenton Road, dead of an apparent suicide. Although the suicide seems to have occurred on September 20, the day Pratico went missing, according to Hamilton Police Detective Sergeant Brian Schroeder, the body was not discovered until October 23, 33 days later.

Pratico was 18 years old and planned to attend the Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in New York City in the spring, according to his family. The discovery concluded more than a month of intensive search efforts by police and volunteers.

On September 20, Mercer security cameras picked up footage of Nick Pratico pacing back and forth on the second floor between the bookstore and the Gallery according to Marysa, and Mark Pratico Sr., in a phone interview with the VOICE shortly after his disappearance. He had just completed his placement tests, attended orientation, and gotten his student ID.

Marysa reports he had registered for two ten-week courses, one Health and Fitness and one English, and was seemingly waiting for his ride home. Then he walked down the stairs to the circle and wasn’t seen again.

When he didn’t show up for an audition for West Side Story, Kelsey Theatre informed the family of his disappearance, and the search for him began. Two days later his ID was found roughly 150 feet from the Old Trenton Road entrance to Mercer’s West Windsor campus according to his father.

In an effort to possibly narrow in on his location police pinged Partico’s phone. The last location it could be tracked to was around Mercer’s solar fields at 3:15 the day he went missing, according to his sister.

Search efforts were extensive, and spread as far as New York City and Philadelphia. They finally came to an end when the body was discovered on October 23. A New Jersey State Police K9 Unit, together with Hamilton detectives, were performing a grid search. They were on their last grid square of the day when one of the dogs picked up a scent and the body was found.

Another K9 unit from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office had previously scouted along Old Trenton Road shortly after the search efforts began. At that time no scent was picked up.

Some locals have questioned why the dogs wouldn’t have found the scent earlier. The answer may have to do with traffic. Angela Snovak writes in her “Guide to Search and Rescue Dogs” that “Exhaust fumes could potentially overwhelm a dog’s ability to pinpoint scent.”

NJ 101.5 reported that until a week before Pratico’s body was found, the area the body was found in was obscured by corn, providing another obstacle to his recovery.

Detective Sergeant Brian Schroeder told the VOICE that, although there has been no official cause of death as of yet, Pratico appears to have died of a “self-inflicted injury.” The detective sergeant also said no foul play is suspected. The body showed no signs of having been moved, and it is believed that it was there since the day Pratico died.

Ron Pierson, who describes himself as having been “very close” to Pratico, told The VOICE that he had tried to stay in touch with his friend after they both graduated Notre Dame High School earlier this year. He says h had hoped to go together to a Broadway show. After missing a call from Pratico, Pierson says his attempts to reach back out went unanswered.

Pierson described Pratico’s enrollment at Mercer saying: “His father has a strict rule for his kids; he wants them to go to community college first, for discipline.” He noted that Pratico had hoped to pursue a theater career instead, saying: “He believed if he didn’t take that chance now he wouldn’t get it again.”

The Pratico family offered a different perspective. Marysa said “[Mercer] was kind of like a way for him to stay focused, and to stay level headed. I mean you don’t want to become a couch potato…”

She added, “He was looking forward to spending the fall preparing for the Conservatory, and getting his stuff together.”

Father Jason Parzynski, Chaplain of Notre Dame High School who was seen to be a confidant for Pratico described him as “laid-back,” but “not a very public person about a lot of stuff.”

Father Parzynski told The VOICE about the last time he heard from Pratico. “He gave me a call two days before he went missing, asking if we could talk.”

Father Parzynski says they planned to meet up at the Notre Dame soccer game the next day, but Pratico said he had a stomache ache and cancelled. Parzynski noted he never found out what Pratico wanted to discuss.

According to Ron Pierson, Pratico’s best friend was Coby St. Phard, who was on Notre Dame’s soccer team alongside him. In March 2016, however, St. Phard took his own life; he stood in front of an oncoming train. Pierson says that Pratico was “incredibly shaken” by the loss of his friend.

Nicholas Pratico death sent shockwaves throughout the Mercer community. His friends and acquaintances describe him as a kind young man with a bright future.

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If you or anyone you know is struggling with feelings of depression contact the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255). You are not alone.

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