Mother of Slain Texas College Student Says Arrested Boyfriend Was 'Manipulative' and 'Vain'

"I didn't like him, I never liked him," Lori Verk says of the man accused of killing her daughter, Zuzu Verk

Zuzu Verk
Photo: Courtesy Verk Family

Days after their daughter’s body was found in a shallow grave six miles from her West Texas home, the family of Zuzu Verk says they knew her relationship with her boyfriend was volatile — but that they didn’t expect it to end in death.

Zuzu, a 21-year-old conservation biology student at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, was reported missing in October before her remains were recently identified. Her boyfriend, Robert Fabian, has been identified by police as the main suspect in her death.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Lori Verk says her daughter broke up with Fabian several times in the months leading up to her death.

“Zuzu shared with me and many other people months ago that she knew she was not in love with Robert,” Lori says.

“She did try to break up with him several times but she continued to be talked back into the relationship,” Lori says, characterizing Fabian as “manipulative.”

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From the moment they met, Lori didn’t approve of Fabian.

“I didn’t like him, I never liked him,” she says. “He was very arrogant, vain, very selfish [and] I didn’t like the way he treated my daughter.”

The day after Zuzu’s body was found on Friday, Fabian was arrested for allegedly tampering with evidence by concealing a human corpse, police announced at a press conference.

On Monday, police announced that Fabian’s friend Chris Estrada had been arrested by Arizona authorities on the same charges. Police say Estrada was the first person Fabian called the night Zuzu went missing. Neither has been charged with her murder, though police said additional charges are pending, CW33 reports.

Fabian is being held at the Brewster County Jail, court records show. Estrada remains in Arizona, where he is awaiting extradition.

Neither has entered a plea, and it was not immediately clear whether either has retained an attorney.

A ‘Relationship out of Convenience’

Glenn Verk, Zuzu’s father, tells PEOPLE his daughter and Fabian met last year on a night out in Alpine. Zuzu, a Keller native, was attracted to Fabian’s fun, active social life.

However, she knew the relationship wasn’t going to last, her mother says.

“Zuzu said, ‘Mom I knew I’m not going to spend the rest of my life with this guy,'” Lori tells PEOPLE.

Glenn said his daughter and Fabian had a “relationship out of convenience.”

Alpine Police Department

On Oct. 11, the night of her disappearance, Fabian’s neighbor allegedly recalled seeing Zuzu at his apartment, CBS7 reports.

Lori says she and Fabian were in contact initially while she waited to hear from their daughter. At the time, Lori thought she was having trouble contacting Zuzu because she was studying for midterms.

After three days, they asked Alpine police to conduct a welfare check. Zuzu was nowhere to be found. Fabian and Lori haven’t spoken since.

‘She Lit Up the Room’

When police informed the Verks their daughter was missing, Glenn drove the nearly 500 miles from Keller to Alpine, where the family has a home, to help police investigate Zuzu’s disappearance. For the next four months, Lori, Glenn and their son Miles travelled back and forth between their homes.

During their time in Alpine, the Verks have learned a lot about their loved one from members of the community, who have shown their support daily through kind gestures, Lori tells PEOPLE.

“She had a big presence, she lit up the room… I heard that more than a few times,” Lori says, adding that her daughter moved to West Texas to follow her passion, conservation biology.

When she wasn’t studying for school, Zuzu, a junior, was working with the Borderland Research Research Institute, a natural research conservation organization affiliated with Sul Ross State, and the Texas Parks and the Wildlife Department.

Zuzu Verk
Courtesy Verk Family

“Zuzu had so much to offer [this world]. When set a goal she would always reach it, no matter what, and someone took that away from her,” says Lori.

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Days before she went missing, Glenn tells PEOPLE, Zuzu applied to Texas A&M University for her senior year. While she was missing, Zuzu received her acceptance letter in the mail.

As the investigation continues, the Verks are helping to organize a memorial planned for Zuzu for Thursday evening at Sul Ross State.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the conservation organizations Zuzu worked with and to a college scholarship being set up in her name.

Lori tells PEOPLE the family is having a difficult time coping with Zuzu’s loss.

“It doesn’t leave any of our minds, not for one minute,” she says. “Whether we’re awake or asleep.”

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