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25 Years Later, Murdered Girl Gets Justice

Her Murder Shook A Small Town To Its Core, 25 Years Later She's About To Get Justice

In 1992, Lisa Marie Ziegert was murdered. In 2017, an arrest was made.

Her Disappearance

Lisa Ziegert was a 24-year-old teacher's aide, who also worked at a local gift shop in Agawan. She was working the closing shift at the shop one day and showed up for work at 4pm. Ziegert was at the store by herself and was scheduled to close up at 9pm. The next morning, the store owners showed up to find the lights on, doors unlocked, and Ziegert's car still in the parking lot. Her keys, wallet, and coat were all still inside.

Witnesses say they last saw the young woman at 7:30 p.m. inside the store. Things became more suspicious when Ziegert didn't show up for her job as a teacher's aide the next morning.

"We're treating it as a missing person," Agawam police Lt. Robert Campbell said. "Anything is possible at this point, and I'm not going to speculate."

Brittany's Card and Gift Shoppe, where Lisa Ziegert disappeared from.Mass Live

Investigation

During a police investigation the day after her disappearance, blood was discovered in the storage room at the shop. State police and the FBI were called in to help investigate the case, both on foot and in helicopters. Joseph O'Neill, who owned the shop where Ziegert worked, says the police seized two doors from the store, as well as a display case.

"Lisa was very trusting," O'Neill told the media. "Whoever it was, it was obviously someone she was not intimidated by."

As time time passed, police acknowledged there may have to rethink their classification.

"The possibilities of it being a walk-away seem kind of slim as time goes on," Lt. Campbell said. "As of this morning we have classified this as a kidnapping. We have ruled out a number of possibilities, and we feel she did not leave on her own."

The search continued for Ziegert with the hopes of finding her alive, but unfortunately that would not happen.

Discovery

Four days after her disappearance, Lisa Ziegert's body was found less than one mile from where she vanished. People gathered all along the road as investigative teams spent more than 11 hours collecting evidence.

"I think whoever left her here had to know the area," a resident who lived near the card store said. "You need a four-wheel drive to get through the mud and there are a lot of different entrances to this place."

Detective Terry Latellier, right, hands an article of clothing to detective Stanley Chmielewski near the site where Ziegert's body was found.Mass Live

An autopsy would later prove that Ziegert died of a single stab wound to the neck.

"I don't believe we have a drifter here," one resident told local media outlets. "I've lived here all my life and I've never even known about that field."

Funeral Service

More than 800 people gathered to pay their respects to Lisa Ziegert. Members of the church where Ziegert had taught Sunday school wore white ribbons to the service, which had been handed out three days earlier at Easter Sunday mass.

"There is a wound in the heart of each of us," Rev. David J. Joyce says in his eulogy.

Suspects

The police and FBI spent months trying to identify Lisa Ziegert's killer. There were two potential suspects in the case, both of whom knew Ziegert, but both were released after questioning. Months passed, and authorities still had no leads.

"We are still receiving calls on the hot line number and people should not hesitate to call if they think they might have some information, no matter how small or insignificant it is," Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett said.

One year later, police still had nothing to go off of.

In the days before the one-year anniversary of Ziegert's death, Agawam Middle School students tie a white ribbon to a tree in the school's courtyard.Mass Live

Continuing Hope

As years passed, no one gave up hope for finding Lisa Ziegert's killer. Hundreds of people gathered every year to remember the lost life.

"She was a great friend to laugh and to cry with," Dianne Ziegert, Lisa's mother, told gatherers. "She was a great listener."

"We are never going to forget Lisa, and ... we are never going to give up," Mayor Christopher C. Johnson says.

Dianne M. Ziegert speaks at a vigil on April 15, 1996, the fourth anniversary of her daughter's death.Mass Live

It's now been 25 years since Ziegert's death, and now her family may finally get some peace.

Break In The Case

In September 2017, the investigators involved in Lisa Ziegert's case broke some news. They arrested the killer.

"Through the determined and skilled work of many investigators, we have arrested the person responsible for the heinous acts committed against Lisa, and the 25-year search for answers is over," Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said.

Investigators were able to retrieve male DNA from evidence gathered at the scene, and it was sent out through both national and international databases. The DNA matched to 48-year-old Gary Schara. A new team of investigators began working on the case to try and get some fresh eyes on the information, and they found it pointed to Schara.

A hand-drawn rendering of what detectives believed Schara looked like based off his DNA was drawn up, and it was sent out to the public. Someone close to the suspect approached the police, and gave them a set of hand-written letters that allegedly confessed to the crimes committed against Ziegert.

"We have a sense of why he did it, yes," Gulluni said in response to a reporter's question.

As for Lisa Ziegert's family, they're just happy they are able to get some closure.

"We'll do anything, and sit through anything to have this happen, and to face this person and to say, 'We got you,'" Diane Ziegert said. "No matter how long it takes, you can always be brought to justice."

Schara is charged with murder, aggravated rape and kidnapping, and is awaiting a court date.

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