Published Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 | 8:47 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 | 9:15 p.m.
Location where body was found
Metro Police on Wednesday arrested the husband of a Las Vegas teacher whose body was found behind a grocery store this past weekend in the northwest valley.
Mark Douglas Franta was taken into custody at 4:55 p.m. and charged with murder in connection with the death of 49-year-old Marybeth Franta. Police said Mark Franta had reported his wife missing.
Franta was booked into Clark County Detention Center and is being held without bail.
The Clark County Coroner's Office on Wednesday said Marybeth Franta died of asphyxiation and ruled her death a homicide. Her body was found behind the Albertsons store at Tenaya Way and Craig Road.
Metro Police began asking for the public's help Tuesday in finding Marybeth Franta, who taught at Irwin and Susan Molasky Junior High School. Police said she left her home about 7 p.m. Saturday in the 4300 block of Cranbrook Circle, near Torrey Pines Drive and Harmon Avenue, and didn't return.
Police had said she was driving a gray 2002 Mazda Tribute sport utility vehicle, which police later recovered near a desert area along Craig Road west of U.S. 95.
Family and friends spent Wednesday trying to cope with her loss.
More than a year ago, a horse-riding accident left Marybeth Franta with a broken shoulder and several broken ribs. Despite the setback, she kept her characteristic positive outlook and returned to competition in February with her horse, Gabriel.
"It was a real thrill for her," said friend Charlene Peterson, who volunteered alongside Franta with the Nevada State Horsemen's Association. "Everyone was real encouraging."
Peterson said Franta had three loves: her two grown children, her junior high science students and horses.
And family members say Franta was on her way to take care of one of those loves — her horses — when she disappeared Saturday night.
"She was going to feed her horses like always," her cousin, Ronald McLaughlin, said a relative told him.
But it's unclear whether she ever made it there.
McLaughlin, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, said Franta's large extended family is in shock — and hopes police quickly find the person or persons responsible for her death.
Franta, one of six children, moved around quite a bit as a child as the family followed her father's career in higher education, including his stint as an administrator at UNLV, McLaughlin said. Her father, Dale Nitzschke, left UNLV as provost in 1983 to assume the presidency of Marshall University in West Virginia.
To McLaughlin's knowledge, Franta has lived in Las Vegas since at least the mid-1980s.
School officials said the district's Crisis Response Team was available for students and staff at Irwin and Susan Molasky Junior High School on Wednesday. Franta had worked for the Clark County School District since August 1993.
"She looked at it more of an interaction with individuals," McLaughlin said. "That's what she liked to do: interact with the children in the classroom."
In a letter sent home to parents, Principal Daron Heilman called Franta an "integral part of our staff in enhancing a positive community."
"She will always be remembered as part of our school family and we will miss her greatly," he wrote.
Her compassion in the classroom carried over into family life, too, McLaughlin said. He described Franta as the little girl "full of smiles" at family reunions in northwest Iowa, and she continued attending reunions as an adult.
"As she got older, she didn't make anyone feel out of place or better than anyone," he said.
Peterson said Franta exhibited the same traits — "positive, sweet, caring" — as secretary and show announcer, both volunteer roles, for the equestrian organization.
"There wasn't a day I didn't see a smile on her face," Peterson said.
More importantly, she said, Franta touched hundreds of lives as a teacher, mother and volunteer in the equestrian community — and will be sorely missed, Peterson said.
"She loved life and to have something like this happen to her is unfathomable," she said. "We're just in shock."