Police are searching for Zuzu Verk, a 22-year-old student from North Texas attending school in Alpine, Texas. Her family has traveled from Coppell to West Texas to be close to the search, which has been ongoing since Oct. 12. On Friday, police increased the reward for information to $50,000.
Friends last saw the Sul Ross State University student, who formerly attended University of North Texas, on Oct. 12 after going to the movies with a group of friends. Alpine police have said she "may be in danger" but have not elaborated.
Alpine police searching for leads were particularly interested in vehicles seen on the road the night she disappeared. But as the days ticked by, the search expanded to Marathon, Fort Davis, South Brewster County, Marfa and Presidio County. By Wednesday, Alpine police said 120 law enforcement personnel and other search teams scoured 200 square miles, with no result. "We are expecting additional personnel and resources to arrive ... to help with the air and ground searches," they said.
Most police departments do not have the manpower or equipment to conduct long searches over rural desert landscapes. For these situations, locals can call state and federal authorities to keep an eye out for vehicles or other clues. In the search for Verk, State Troopers on the ground and U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft overhead worked with the search teams on the ground.
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Even with these assets, the true specialists when it comes to finding missing people are actually volunteers. This week, volunteers who specialize in searching from horseback arrived in West Texas to help the effort to find the missing student. The Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, a nonprofit group founded in 2000, have 600 members. Most of these are horse owners, but others use ATVs or bring specialty equipment, like drones, to foot searches. They also have boat teams who can dive or use sonar to locate items or bodies underwater, according to the group's website.
Tim Miller started the group after the abduction and murder of his daughter, Laura, in North Galveston County in 1984. Since then, the group says they are responsible for recovering the remains of 159 missing people.
The other volunteer group in Texas that local police say is assisting in Alpine is the Texas Search and Rescue. They are a newer group — founded in 2015 — but they've ramped up operations quickly. Because volunteers take emergency management training courses, this group is able to plug itself into the command and control structure during an incident. The nonprofit group estimates that volunteers contributed more than 20,000 hours during the group's first year, a good percentage of that accrued during the Memorial Day floods.
Zuzu Renee Verk
* 5'0", 110 lbs
* Hazel eyes
* Recently colored it blonde hair
* Family's gofundme