Human remains found Friday in a shallow grave near Alpine, Texas have been positively identified as those of missing college student Zuzu Verk.
The remains were identified via dental records at the Southwest Institute of Forensic Scientists, a crime lab in Dallas County.
Verk, a 21-year-old Keller woman who was studying biology at Sul Ross State University, went missing on Oct. 12 of last year.
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said it was the news officers were expecting from the moment they arrived at the scene where remains were found Friday.
"Without giving up too much, when we walked onto the scene immediately... knowing what we knew about the case -- which we can't reveal -- when I walked up there, I just knew," Dodson said. "I had to call the chief and said 'I think we got her here.'"
Dodson said he believes Verk had been buried in that spot since she disappeared nearly four months ago.
Zuzu's boyfriend, Robert Fabian, was arrested in connection to her disappearance Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after the remains were found. Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown told News 8 Friday that the investigation was leading down a path toward arresting Fabian, but that the discovery of the remains expedited the arrest.
Fabian faces a charge of tampering with evidence by concealing or hiding a corpse. His bail was set at $500,000 when he faced a judge Monday morning. Additional charges are expected, police said.
For the Verk family, the confirmation brought a rush of mixed emotions.
“It's sense or relief, and sadness, sorrow, horror, ya know... a lot of emotions run through and they’re opposite of each other in many ways,” said Glenn Verk, Zuzu's father.
Lori Verk, who said she last saw her daughter on a shopping trip 10 days before she vanished, is eager for justice.
"We’ll lay her to rest and then, then we go after the consequences that need to be met," said Lori. "How dare anyone do this."
Police also announced Monday afternoon that a second arrest had been made in the case. Chris Estrada, a friend of Fabian's who communicated with him the night Verk disappeared, was arrested Monday in Phoenix.
Estrada was initially a person of interest in the case but was considered a suspect after the remains were found near Alpine. Police say Estrada had recently relocated.
“You can imagine in the middle of the night, what kind of hurry they were in to do what they did,” said Sheriff Dodson.
Arrangements were being made to bring Estrada back to Texas.
He was arrested for DWI last month in an unrelated incident.
Fabian's family members are still considered "persons of interest," according to Alpine police.
A memorial service for Verk is scheduled for Thursday at Sul Ross State University. Bill Kibler, the president of Sul Ross State University, released this statement Monday afternoon:
We grieve the loss of our friend and fellow student Zuzu Renee Verk, as events of the past weekend have brought a tragic closure to her disappearance in October of this past year. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Verk family, with the assurance that the university and the community family will continue to provide prayers and active support.
Zuzu’s death affects all of us as well. Counseling and Accessibility Services (Ferguson Hall Room 112 or 432.837.8203) is standing by with counselors available to assist students, faculty and staff in this grieving process.
We thank the Alpine Police Department, Brewster County Sheriff’s Office, and all other participating law enforcement and emergency personnel, as well as the countless volunteers – many from Sul Ross – for their tireless efforts in the search for Zuzu.
Despite our sadness, let us remember the smiles, energy and zest for life that personified Zuzu. She embodied characteristics that represent the best in all of us.
Plans are underway for a memorial service for Zuzu to be held at Sul Ross State University on Thursday, February 9th at 6:30 p.m., located at the new outdoor amphitheater between the Warnock Science Building and the Lobo Village Residence Halls.
In lieu of flowers, the Verk family has asked for donations to be sent here:
Zuzu Verk Memorial Scholarship Fund in Natural Resource Management
C/O SRSU Office of External Affairs
PO Box C-114
Alpine, TX 79832
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