It was supposed to be a simple date night in the small Texas town of Alpine. She was going to the movies with her on-again/off-again boyfriend Robert Fabian. With short blond hair and hazel eyes, Zuzu Verk is full of life, her father says, like her namesake in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. She is only 22, a former University of North Texas student who studies biology at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. She’s now been missing for two weeks.
He is a small town kid from Alpine area who likes to take selfies. He posted them on his social media accounts. Fabian smiles in some, looks thoughtful and serious in others. He says he studied chemistry at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, and was known to post inspirational memes to his Facebook page. He started dating Verk in January and met her parents in April. Now he's hired a lawyer and refuses to speak with police. He is the last person known to have seen Verk before she vanished on Oct. 12, police say.
Verk was supposed to attend class to take a midterm a couple of days after her movie date with Fabian. A former Timber Creek High School student in Fort Worth, she moved to the remote area of Southwest Texas because, her father Glenn says, she loved to hike and get lost in nature. She moved to Alpine during 2014-2015 school year to follow her new passion for conservation biology. She’d planned to go on a camping trip with her friends the weekend after her date with Fabian.
Then she disappeared.
Her father, Glenn Verk, drove more than six hours from his home in Keller to find her when she stopped responding to text messages and phone calls on Oct. 12. He’d persuaded his wife to name their daughter Zuzu because of the scene of little Zuzu and her flower petals from It’s a Wonderful Life.
“You just pace around and feel like you need to help, to do something, to help with the search, to spread awareness or to talk with people,” he told Dateline.
But Verk’s father isn’t alone in his search for his missing daughter. Other people soon joined him. Hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials have scoured more than 400 square miles of the remote countryside on foot, horseback and ATV, searching for clues to Verk’s whereabouts. They've reached out to their law enforcement counterparts 100 miles away in Mexico for help, and they’re also expecting additional personnel and resources to help with the air and ground sources.
Law enforcement officials say they are reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance video from business and private citizens. They've interviewed more than 100 people, issued dozens of search warrants and compiled evidence that includes computers and cell phones. They’ve also urged more people with security cameras around their homes to come forward with information. They’ve asked ranchers in the area to pay attention to unusual items found on their land.
They’ve located a couple of vehicles and sent evidence taken from the carpet of a white Ford Mustang that law enforcement claims belongs to Fabian’s friend to a forensic lab in El Paso for testing. “Investigators believe this vehicle is a key piece of evidence in this case,” Alpine police wrote on Facebook and then asked for anyone who may have seen the vehicle on the night of Oct. 12 to contact police.
They’ve also increased the reward for information relating to Verk’s whereabouts from $7,500 to $100,000.
Law enforcement and volunteers have been searching for two weeks now. They’re searching in Brewster County and neighboring counties as well. The Verks say law enforcement deployed drones on Tuesday to search for their missing daughter.
"It's heartbreaking," the Verks said as they drove back to the Dallas area to pick up a few items from home. They plan to turn back around and return to continue searching for their daughter. "All we want is our daughter back," they said. "It's torture."
Fabian seems to be the one person whom they and law enforcement need to provide information, but they say he isn’t cooperating. Lori Verk says that Fabian and her daughter had gone to the movies together on Monday where they met with some friends. She says her daughter called her around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, but she missed her call. On Wednesday, her daughter missed her midterm and work.
Then her parents began to worry.
Instead of searching for his missing girlfriend or reassuring her parents' worst fears, Fabian hired an attorney, Liz Rogers, who told a local news station last week that her client is cooperating with police, and that he had nothing to do with Verk’s disappearance.
Calls to Fabian’s attorney were not returned.
Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown seems to disagree with Rogers about her client’s cooperation and pointed out that he refuses to talk with investigators.
“So, when you talk about all the hundreds of people from all over the state that are working actively to help solve this and bring Zuzu back to her family, and one individual that won’t, that ought to tell you something,” Scown said in a press conference on Friday.
Verk’s mother, Lori, claimed in the news conference that Fabian had been invited into their home, into their hearts and also to help search for her daughter. Yet he’s refused their request to help.
Verk’s brother said, “If you love Zuzu as much as you say you do, over and over, you will come down and help the police bring my sister home.”
“If you would please come and cooperate with the police, help us and help them,” Verk’s father said. “I know that you love her. ... I hope that you do, and this would be the way to show it.”