A flurry of texts, a final meeting

They had broken up, but Nate Fujita pushed hard to see Lauren Astley the night she died

Maeghen Reineke, Lauren Astley’s supervisor at Shop 344, with a photo collage created to pay tribute to Astley. She remembered Astley in her job interview as “spunky, bright, and adorable.’’ Maeghen Reineke, Lauren Astley’s supervisor at Shop 344, with a photo collage created to pay tribute to Astley. She remembered Astley in her job interview as “spunky, bright, and adorable.’’ (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Mark Arsenault and Vivian Yee
Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2011

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WAYLAND - Lauren Astley had plans to hang out with friends that night, but Nate Fujita was insistent.

He wanted to meet.

Fujita had been struggling with their recent breakup and, Astley told her friends, acting “very immature.’’

As Astley worked her shift at a women’s clothing store at the Natick Collection mall that afternoon, Fujita’s repeated text messages were “blowing up’’ her phone, the store manager said.

Ultimately, the supervisor said, Astley agreed to see her longtime boyfriend because Fujita had been so unrelenting.

“She was more annoyed than anything,’’ said store manager Maeghen Reineke.

Police allege that when the teens met last Sunday night, Fujita slashed and choked Astley to death and stashed her body in a wooded marsh off Water Row near the Sudbury line. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder.

Authorities have called the crime an extreme case of teen dating violence, allegedly motivated by Fujita’s need for power and control over a young woman who had outgrown their three-year relationship.

Astley, 18, was on her way to college in North Carolina; her on-again/off-again boyfriend, also 18, was headed to school in Hartford. With freshman year in sight, Astley seemed the one more ready to move on, friends say.

“Him and her had their ups and downs,’’ said Jeff Brewington, who played football with Fujita at Wayland High School. “I think the thing that could have triggered it was that they’re going away and there’s that fear-he wants to be with her, but she wants to go away to school and be free.’’

The brutal attack has shaken this suburb of 13,000 people and devastated two prominent families.

Astley’s father, Malcolm, has had a long career in public service as a teacher, principal, and now a sitting member of the Wayland School Committee.

Fujita’s father, Tomo, is an internationally known guitar player and instructor.

Living a few miles apart in Wayland, the families had been linked for years by a high school romance.

Now they will be linked forever by an unspeakable crime and the allegation that a popular teenager took a promising young life and in the process threw away his own.

“Two families are suffering,’’ said Selectwoman Susan Pope. “Neither family will ever be the same again.’’

The families have taken opposite tacks in dealing with the crime.

The Fujitas have remained cloistered and publicly silent for fear that anything they might say inadvertently cause the Astley family more pain, said William Sullivan, the lawyer who is representing Nate Fujita.

In contrast, a grieving Malcolm Astley has spoken at length about his daughter in numerous media interviews and has expressed sympathy for the Fujita family.

“There is a deep respect and even awe at the graciousness of Lauren’s father,’’ said Selectman Tom Fay. “His compassion and humanity have set the tone here.’’

Lauren Astley was a musician who sang in a cappella groups, played the French horn in the Metrowest Youth Symphony Orchestra, and as a child was cast in a local production of the musical “Annie.’’

“Lauren was a pleasure to teach,’’ Polly Oliver, music director at Astley’s church, First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Wayland, wrote in an e-mail. “I told her father after one of our teaching-coaching sessions, ‘You have a little Ethel Merman on your hands,’ and I sincerely meant it.’’

Friends and teachers paint a portrait of Astley as a young woman passionate about social justice, human rights, and Starbucks coffee.

Fujita was a graceful athlete who played receiver on the high school football team and was a sprinter and long jumper in track.

“We all knew he wasn’t a screw-up, he wasn’t a bad kid, he wasn’t in trouble all the time, he wasn’t a kid to throw his life away,’’ said Brewington, Fujita’s former teammate. “He was a cool kid. I’m not looking at him thinking he’s weird before this incident. This was just out of nowhere. Even talking to his close friends, they were all like, ‘Whoa.’ ’’

Fujita appeared to have been close to his family. His blurb in the high school yearbook thanks his parents and siblings: “You guys have always been there for me, and I couldn’t have gotten through these four years without you.’’

With senior year drawing to a close early last spring, Astley started work at Shop 344 in the mall. Reineke hired her in March after an interview in which Astley came off as “spunky, bright, and adorable,’’ she said.

Astley was good at the job, one night helping NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and his girlfriend pick out items for a sale that exceeded $1,000.

“Sometimes she’d say to me, ‘I’m so sick of boys,’ or ‘I might break up with my boyfriend,’ but it was always pretty casual,’’ said Reineke. “It didn’t seem any different from any other high school relationship.’’

Fujita also talked to friends about snags in the romance.

“I didn’t hear anything except that they had broken up, they were in a fight, they were back together, they were on a break,’’ said Brewington. “Basically, they were on-and-off for three years.’’

Around April, after dating since ninth grade, Astley and Fujita broke up.

“She complained that he seemed unhappy after the breakup,’’ said Casey Donlan, 17, who sang with Astley in an a cappella group. “At the time, it seemed like teenagers break off relationships all the time. She didn’t bring it up again. It was her decision - she was fine with it.’’

Investigators have received several reports from students, Astley’s friends, and others that Fujita had trouble controlling his temper and had been involved in a number of public confrontations in recent weeks. The arguments did not directly involve Astley, though she was sometimes present.

Fujita is being held without bail. Authorities say they can tie him to Astley’s killing through bloodstained clothing and other evidence discovered at his house. Fujita and his family await a court hearing next month.

Astley’s family awaits her memorial service, planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, in First Parish church.

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report. Mark Arsenault can be reached at