A Massachusetts man has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping, rape and killing of 24-year-old Lisa Ziegert, more than two decades after her death.
Gary Schara, 48, was arrested Saturday in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, after authorities searched his home and located DNA evidence that matched samples from the cold-case investigation, Hampden County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said at a news conference on Monday.
Schara has been charged with murder, aggravated rape and kidnapping. His arrest is the first in the 25-year-old case. While authorities suspect a motive, authorities have not publicly disclosed it.
On Tuesday, Schara entered a not-guilty plea in a Westfield District courtroom in Massachusetts. He has been appointed a public defender who could not be reached by PEOPLE for comment.
“The search for Lisa’s assailant is over,” Gulluni told reporters on Monday. “DNA testing and analysis has confirmed the ID of Lisa’s killer.”
Ziegert’s family was reportedly in attendance at the announcement of Schara’s arrest, and Gulluni described them as a “a source of inspiration and drive for me and everyone who has worked on this case,” according to MassLive.com.
Zeigert’s mother, Diane Ziegert, said Schara being taken into custody was a “solace to our hearts,” according to the Associated Press and CBS News.
“We’ll do anything, and sit through anything to have this happen, and to face this person and to say, ‘We got you,'” Diane said of the young woman she called bright and funny and “little bit stubborn.”
“No matter how long it takes, you can always be brought to justice,” Diane reportedly said.
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Gone Without a Trace
Gulluni said Ziegert, a recent college graduate and teacher’s assistant, went missing from her second job at a gift shop in Agawam, Massachusetts, on April 15, 1992.
Her car, keys and coat had been left at the store and authorities were notified when she didn’t show up to her job at Agawam Middle School the next day, MassLive reports.
Four days later — Easter Sunday — Ziegert’s body was found off the side of Route 75 in a wooded area. She had been sexually assaulted and an autopsy report later revealed that she had died of a single stab wound to the neck.
According to Gulluni, Schara, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has been a person of interest in Ziegert’s death since 1993.
Gulluni last year announced a break in the case and released a composite image of a male suspect generated through new technology, using DNA from the crime scene.
Earlier this year, authorities began to collect evidence from past persons of interest who did not have samples in the DNA database, Gulluni said Monday. In August, investigators developed a small list of individuals who would be asked to provide DNA samples. That list included Schara.
According to Gulluni, on Sept. 13, when investigators attempted to notify Schara of the process, he was not home.
The following day, Gulluni said, a known associate of Schara’s provided Massachusetts authorities with evidence that detailed allegations of Schara’s involvement in the case — including a handwritten suicide note in which he admitted to the abduction, rape and murder of Ziegert.
Before his arrest, Schara allegedly fled to Connecticut and tried to kill himself, Gulluni said. During this time, authorities conducted interviews of witnesses and searched his home, where they collected DNA evidence.
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On Friday, authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Schara and, with the help of Connecticut local and state officials, he was arrested the next day.
“Though the determined and skilled work of many investigators, we have arrested the person who is responsible for the heinous acts committed against Lisa and the 25 year long search for answers is over,” Gulluni said.
It is unclear whether Schara knew Ziegert or not.
According to Masslive.com, he graduated from Longmeadow High School in 1987, a year after Ziegert graduated from nearby Agawam High School.