Rafu Staff Report
AUSTIN, Texas — A body found April 5 on the University of Texas at Austin campus has been identified as that of Haruka Weiser, 18, a student at UT, who had last been seen alive on the night of April 3.
On April 8, the Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that the police have identified and arrested a suspect, Meechaiel Criner, 17.
At a press conference, Acevedo said he had conveyed the news to Weiser’s parents, adding, “No parent should ever have to bury a child, especially a young woman like Haruka with such a beautiful spirit … I’m glad that we’re going to bring justice to that family.”
According to Acevedo, Austin firefighters who responded to a trash fire on Monday said that the man who started the fire strongly resembled the murder suspect, who was seen in video from campus security cameras. A local resident who called in the fire also contacted the police and said she recognized the man in the video.
Authorities found Criner at a homeless shelter and arrested him without incident. Acevedo said the suspect had “a small, blue duffle bag resembling that of our victim” and that the trash container at the scene of the fire “contained several items which we believe belonged to our victim.”
Police are trying to find out about Criner’s whereabouts and activities before and after the murder. No motive has been established and the cause of death has not been made public due to the ongoing investigation.
Acevedo thanked the community for providing tips and urged anyone with information about Criner to contact the police.
Calling Weiser’s death “a devastating loss for the UT community,” UT Police Chief David Carter said, “We are taking this to heart as a police department. Our role is to keep our campus safe … This tragic incident has us redoubling our efforts, working with law enforcement partners … (on) areas we can improve upon.” He promised to “actively look for any potential threats.”
Carter called on students to report “any suspicious activity” and stressed the importance of “being conscious of your surroundings and not necessarily walking at night alone, not necessarily walking while texting.”
On Sunday between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m., Weiser was observed leaving the F. Loren Winship Drama Building. She communicated with her roommate via text message that she was on her way to their dormitory room, but did not return to her room Sunday night, nor did she attend class Monday morning. A missing-person report was generated with the University of Texas Police Department on Monday morning.
Weiser’s route from the Winship Building to her dormitory was known to her friends and routinely brought her along Waller Creek. On Tuesday morning, UTPD located the remains of a female in the creek and requested the assistance of the Austin Police Department Homicide Unit. An autopsy was performed by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office and the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
UT President Gregory Fenves said in a statement on Thursday, “With great sadness, I have just learned from the Austin Police Department that Haruka Weiser, a first-year theatre and dance student, has been tentatively identified as the victim of this week’s homicide on campus. Austin Police Department Victim Services counselors spoke this morning with her parents and my heart goes out to them. Her death is a tragic loss for the UT community.
“Haruka was a beloved member of our dance community, liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professors for her intelligence and spirit. Dance faculty members first met Haruka more than two years ago when she performed at the National High School Dance Festival. They immediately began recruiting her to come to UT from her home in Portland, Ore. Our community was made better by her decision to join the College of Fine Arts.
“Trained in ballet, Haruka excelled in all her performance endeavors. She was also involved in Dance Action, a student-run organization for dancers, and performed in the fall Dance Action concert …
“The unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family. Law enforcement is fully engaged to do everything to bring the perpetrator who committed this crime to justice.
“I ask you to join me in expressing our deepest condolences to Haruka’s parents, family, classmates and friends and to help the university honor her life.”
The victim’s family said in a statement on Thursday, “Haruka Juliana Tsunemine Weiser, our beloved daughter, sister and friend, was taken from us too soon. We will forever miss her; the pain of our sudden and tragic loss is unfathomable. We are grateful for all the support, kindness and prayers that have been offered to us. Words cannot express the outpouring of love we have received.
“Haruka was a passionate and dedicated dancer and student. She was so happy to be a student at UT and was looking forward to the chance to perform again as a dance major and she was declaring a second major in pre-med studies, too. She had plans to explore the world of medicine this summer and to travel to visit family in Japan.
“Although Haruka loved to perform on stage, she never sought the spotlight in her daily life. Perhaps the last thing she would want is to be the poster child for any cause. And yet, as we struggle to understand why she was killed, if her death can somehow make it safer for a young woman to walk home, if it will prevent another assault or murder, then at least we could find some meaning behind an otherwise senseless and tragic death.
“To her friends, the many students at UT and at her high school in all the dance programs in which she participated, we are united in prayer for Haruka and for each other. No parent, brother, sister or friend should have to face this kind of sadness, this kind of loss.
“Yet, many do. And now we have joined that family. At UT, Haruka did make many friends and received so much support from this community. We know Haruka would not wish for us be stuck in sadness but to keep living life to the fullest; that is what we will try to do in the coming days. And we offer prayers and encouragement for you to do the same.”
After hearing about the arrest, the family said, “We are grateful for the effective investigation by the Austin Police Department, the University of Texas Police and all who assisted with this case. We are relieved to hear this news.
“We remain steadfast in our desire to honor Haruka’s memory through kindness and love, not violence. To the police officers, the UT community and all who have been impacted by this, we just ask that you hug your children, hug your parents TWICE, one from you and one from us.
“Thank you for all the support you have shown us.”
(Note: The first paragraph originally said March 5 instead of April 5. We regret the error.)