DOVER, N.H. — A 29-year-old New Hampshire man has been charged with the murder of missing college student Elizabeth Marriott, whom friends and relatives described as a strong, artistic woman pursuing her studies in marine biology.
Seth J. Mazzaglia of Dover was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, New Hampshire’s assistant attorney general, James C. Vara, said at a news conference Saturday in Dover.
Vara would not elaborate on Mazzaglia’s relationship with Marriott, how Marriott died, or others details of the case, citing the “integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Marriott, a 19-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire Durham and a native of Westborough, Mass., has been missing since Tuesday night after leaving the school’s campus to visit friends in Dover.
Vara said authorities were still searching for Marriott’s body on Saturday. Susan Morrell, a spokeswoman for New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, confirmed that police activity observed on Pierce Island in Portsmouth was related to the search.
“We’re following the leads that we’ve been given in the investigation, and that has led us to the island,” Morrell said. She declined to name the source of that information, but said “the search will continue all day and night.”
Mazzaglia is scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning in Dover, Morrell said.
A vigil was held Saturday night in Westborough, where the victim’s father, Bob Marriott, addressed more than 100 people huddled together in the cold.
“Together we created an angel, and she is home in heaven,” he said before breaking into tears and joining the crowd.
Pastor John Taylor of the First United Methodist Church in Westborough led the vigil, which began with a single lit candle on a table in front of the crowd on the Bay State Commons.
“This light right here, on this little table, here in the center of Westborough, will represent for us tonight the light of God . . . and also represent the light that is Lizzi Marriott,” Taylor said.
Marriott was a confident and quirky girl, 17-year-old Emily Williams said at the vigil.
“I always looked up to her as a person,” she said, explaining that she and Marriott knew each other through family friends and grew up with each other. “I always wanted to aspire to be [like her].”
Earlier in the day, Robert Hoyt, a family friend who was handling media requests, said the Marriotts were “still in mourning and disbelief. Their daughter was just home on Sunday and now they don’t have her.”
Hoyt said Marriott was a high school prom queen with an artistic bent and was passionate about her study of marine biology at UNH. “She was musical and artistic, and she had her whole life in front of her,” Hoyt said.
A statement released by the Marriott family asked the public: “Please pray for the dedicated rescue professionals who continue to look for Lizzi. We need them to find her and bring her home.”
The statement thanked “everyone for the support and prayers in this most difficult of times” as well as the news media for being an “ally” that brought attention to the case.
Marriott had been living with her aunt in Chester, N.H., and commuting to classes in Durham. The aunt, Rebecca Tyning, described her niece as “an energetic college student pursuing her dreams.” Tyning said her niece also loved working as a volunteer at the New England Aquarium.
“She must have been caught off-guard,” said Nicole Downey, a Westborough woman who attended the news conference and described herself as Marriott’s “best friend” from high school. “We used to playfully get in fights and she was strong. She could defend herself if she needed to.”
Downey and her mother, Dawn, made the trip to the Dover news conference from Westborough, where friends and family had assembled to join a search party before authorities told them to “stand down” Saturday morning.
Downey said she had never heard Marriott mention Mazzaglia. Downey said she had a “casual conversation” with Marriott on Tuesday about her classes, and nothing seemed amiss. The conversation was just hours before her disappearance.
Dawn Downey said Marriott was a “beautiful girl” who was the prom queen at Westborough High School, where she graduated in 2011.
The family had offered a $10,000 reward for Marriott’s safe return and, along with investigators and friends, organized searches of the coastal areas near Portsmouth before Saturday’s announcement.
On a website that appeared to belong to Mazzaglia, he describes himself as an “actor, writer, and fight choreographer” who has appeared in theater productions in southern New Hampshire. The site also lists an address on Mill Street in Dover, where police were seen Friday night, according to media reports.
The website, sjmazzaglia.com, was available only intermittently by late Saturday, possibly due to an overload of Web traffic after his arrest.
On the site, Mazzaglia also detailed his martial arts accomplishments, including a third degree black belt in Okinawan Karate and sword technique.
Bob Modee taught karate lessons alongside Mazzaglia at the Kittery Community Center for several years. “I’m completely stunned about what’s happening,” he said. “I’m having trouble even speaking, I’m in so much shock.”
A spokeswoman for UNH, Erika Mantz, confirmed that Mazzaglia graduated from the school in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in theater. An article written for the Chronicle of Higher Education and posted on UNH’s website in 2005 describes Mazzaglia as an actor who starred in a Shakespearean production.
“We were greatly saddened to learn of Lizzi’s death and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends,” said UNH president Mark W. Huddleston in a statement.
“Lizzi was a new member of the university community and will be missed in our classrooms. Our focus now will be on supporting our campus community during this difficult time.”
Donations in support of the family can be made to a memorial fund at Central One Federal Credit Union in Shrewsbury.