A nearly four-month-long search for a missing Texas college student has ended with the discovery of her body.
The family of Zuzu Renee Verk had been holding out hope that she would be found alive.
Their hopes were crushed Friday when a U.S. Border Patrol agent found a partially decomposed body in a shallow grave near Alpine, the town where Verk was last seen in October.
Authorities told the family that they believe the body is Verk’s and that her former boyfriend, Robert Fabian, has been arrested on a warrant for tampering with or fabricating physical evidence by concealing a human corpse.
Police still have a lot of questions, including what happened to the 22-year-old college student.
Verk, who studied conservation biology at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, was last seen alive on Oct. 11, when she and Fabian, 26, went to the movies with friends.
Family members became alarmed when Verk missed a midterm exam on Oct. 12 and failed to show up later that day for her job at Sul Ross Borderlands Research Institute.
Verk’s father, Glenn, made the seven-hour drive from their Keller home to Alpine and arrived the following morning.
“I checked in with police,” Glenn Verk told HuffPost in November. “They were very forthcoming about everything that was going on. There were searches going on … there were missing posters everywhere.”
Officers said they are confident the body found Friday is Zuzu Verk.
“There are key pieces of evidence that were found at the scene that lead us to believe that this is gonna be Zuzu,” Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown said at a Saturday press conference.
Authorities have yet to release the findings of an autopsy that was performed Monday morning at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. They said they expect to release additional information late Monday or early Tuesday.
“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to find her,” Scown said at the press conference. “And we can continue on with the investigation and help the family.”
Fabian was named a suspect in the case two weeks after Verk disappeared.
Police said Fabian told investigators he was with Verk on Oct. 11 and they remained together until around 3 a.m., when she left his home. Witnesses told police they had heard the couple arguing, and saw Verk’s car at the apartment later that morning.
Police executed multiple search warrants and interviewed more than 100 potential witnesses.
The search warrants revealed that among those interviewed by state police were friends of Fabian: Brittney Marie Gasca, Christopher Estrada and Joshua Cobos.
Gasca, according to police, said Estrada showed up at her house early Oct. 12 and “was very distraught pacing back and forth, acting nervous.” Gasca said she asked if he was okay and he replied: “I’m fine. I did not do anything. If they interview me I have nothing to say.”
Gasca said she had no idea what Estrada was talking about. She told police Estrada used her cellphone to contact Fabian.
Estrada told police he gave Fabian a ride on Oct. 12, according to the search warrants. Police then searched Estrada’s 2016 Ford Mustang.
“It is [the] belief of affiant that Christopher Estrada and Robert Fabian have used said vehicle to conceal ... physical evidence tending to show that Robert Fabian has personal knowledge and involvement in the disappearance of Zuzu,” one of the search warrants states.
Cobos, owner of Cobos Gas and Lube Center in Alpine, told police Fabian came to his shop on Oct. 14, acting nervously. He said Fabian borrowed his cellphone to contact Estrada.
Estrada allegedly visited Cobos’ shop three times that day to have his Mustang cleaned and detailed, but the shop was too busy.
“Cobos advised that he thought [Estrada’s] behavior was odd at the time, given that Zuzu had just been reported missing,” the court documents state. “Cobos advised that by Saturday Oct. 16, 2016, Estrada’s vehicle was clean.”
Police also searched a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup registered to Fabian’s brother-in-law, according to a warrant, which said police were looking for DNA, blood and other potential evidence. Police said Fabian had borrowed the truck in the early morning hours of Oct. 12.
Four other search warrants filed in the case sought cellphone records and Fabian’s laptop.
Over the weekend, detectives obtained yet another search warrant, which they reportedly executed at Fabian’s sister’s house. Authorities removed tools, shovels and soil from the property, according to WFAA-TV.
Fabian is being held at the Brewster County Jail. His bond has been set at $500,000.
Estrada, who was recently charged in an unrelated case for driving while intoxicated and evading arrest, has reportedly moved to Arizona. He has not been arrested in connection with Verk’s disappearance.
Her family said the most recent developments are bittersweet.
“As our family awaits the likely news that our worst fears have been realized, our sorrow has grown alongside a sense of relief from the constant state of not knowing,” Glenn Verk said in a statement emailed to KWES-TV. “Zuzu has been a bright light in our lives. It has been our greatest challenge to go forward these last months without her joyous laugh, fierce idealism and heart-melting smile, knowing we may all never have them again.”
“As we carry on, we look forward to the day we witness justice delivered for Zuzu,” he added.