Haruka Weiser's death: What we know so far
On April 5, a woman's body was found in Waller Creek next to the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Two days later, the woman was identified as Haruka Weiser, a first-year Theatre and Dance student.
For the first time since the Tower shooting in 1966, officials said a homicide occurred on campus at The University of Texas at Austin.
On April 5 at 10:46 a.m., the University of Texas Police Department responded to "reports of a deceased person in a creek on campus west of the Alumni Center," according to a UT Safety Alert.
"This is a difficult and tragic day for our campus community," said UT President Greg Fenves in a news conference. "Our home has been violated."
Late in the morning April 7, UT officials identified the victim as Haruka Weiser of Portland. At a press conference later in the day, Austin police released a video that shows a person of interest in Weiser's death. The man is seen in the video riding a pink or red women's bicycle.
Officials are offering a $15,000 reward for information that leads to the identification and arrest of the person of interest. Go here to view video of the person of interest.
Sources close to the investigation tell KVUE News she was last seen April 3 and a missing persons report was filed about Weiser the following day.
KVUE's Ashley Goudeau confirmed that she lived in the Prather Hall dormitory, located in the Waller Creek community within walking distance from the Alumni Center.
The Travis County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed it performed an autopsy on Weiser April 6.
On April 13, investigators in the case told KVUE's Tony Plohetski that Weiser appeared to have been randomly targeted and was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Plohetski also reports that the killer's DNA from the crime scene will be submitted to law enforcement databases for any possible matches to other crimes across Texas.
Weiser's funeral services are scheduled to take place April 23 in Oregon.
This is what KVUE News has confirmed so far, in chronological order:
The day the body was found
About an hour before Weiser was found, UT graduate student Stephanie Sandoval was walking in the loading dock next to the creek and knew something wasn't right.
"Although Waller Creek is a creek and you know, sometimes it does have a creek smell, it did not smell like that on that day. It just smelled different and bad. Just bad," Sandoval said.
She said she thought it was a dead animal. Later that morning, the university sent an email to students and staff, alerting them of the investigation.
"I was in class and the news was everywhere," said student Nidia Cavazos. "All of a sudden students were talking, the professor took time to read it in his phone."
The Austin Police Department announced they were taking over the investigation Wednesday. After seeing the body Tuesday, UT police said they suspected it was a homicide. It's a conclusion that's leaving students with even more questions about their safety.
"Is it somebody that's out there and loose? Out for more students," Cavazos wanted to know.
"Based on current information from the investigation, the campus is safe. In order to reassure the campus, UTPD has increased bicycle and foot patrols," said UTPD Captain Don Verett.
President Fenves sent a tweet out just before 8 p.m., stating he had directed 50 officers from UTPD, APD and DPS to patrol the UT community.
Still, UT police are asking students to not walk alone at night and to instead use the SURE walk program.
The Texas Rangers, DPS troopers and Austin police have volunteered to help with the investigation and will also patrol the campus. Cavazos said that gives her some peace.
"If they can assure that they're doing their job then I can say that I would feel safe," she said. "You know there's always going to be dangers whether you have patrols or not, so I would just say it's up to students to be careful."
24 hours after the body was found
APD is on the case
APD took over as the lead investigating agency in this case, even though the body was found on campus.
APD released a statement on Wednesday:
"Extra officers will remain in the area. We do want the campus community to be vigilant, and if you see something that looks suspicious, call 9-1-1 immediately. Remember, always walk with a friend, in well-lit areas and be aware of your surroundings."
APD worked with Crime Stoppers to offer a large reward for any information leading to an arrest in this case.
"I don't know what happened or who it happened to or what time and of course I feel like my mind is thinking the worst," said UT acting junior Gabi Walker.
Students have come together
Students told KVUE on Wednesday Weiser was a well-known dance student.
That possibility is leaving the dance community on campus anxious about their friend -- and their safety.
"She was really kind and just good things," said UT student Susannah Crowell. "It changes the whole dynamic and everyone's just kind of thinking twice about getting out of a group any time on campus when the sun goes down."
Sources close to the investigation told KVUE they believed the victim is a dance student who was reported missing Monday morning.
"The Theater and Dance department, everyone's coming together as a family and that's really nice," said UT student Kira Stein.
Crowell said it's normal for students to be leaving the Fine Arts area late at night, after rehearsals and practice sessions.
Stein said Theater and Dance students have come together to make sure everyone gets home safe in the wake of this tragedy.
"The Theater and Dance students last night when the news came, a couple of hours later we started a page just to kind of get different numbers if anyone did needs to leave rehearsal, finding buddies, getting groups together," Stein said.
UT President Fenves announced Wednesday there will now be shuttle vans to transport Theater and Dance students to and from the building because rehearsals and practices usually run late.
Security is increased on campus
A day after Weiser's body was found on the UT campus, Fenves announced on Twitter 50 officers from APD, UTPD and Department of Public Safety will be on campus to patrol the area. At the press conference on Thursday, a UT representative said bike, mounted and vehicular patrols will continue to make their rounds in the wake of her death.
At the conference, the representative also urged students to walk without earbuds and phones and to be aware of their surroundings.
“Law enforcement is working hard to investigate this week’s homicide while campus leadership is actively addressing safety at UT Austin," Fenves said.
Even with increased security on campus, many students are still uneasy.
Graduate student Lizette Berrera has been on high alert since Tuesday.
“I typically just look around. I try not to be on my cell phone late at night so I can be aware of my surroundings,” Barrera said.
Students have access to 120 call boxes placed across campus that can connect students with UTPD with a click of a button.
There is also a program on campus called SURE Walk. Students can request to be walked home and a male and female volunteer will meet them and get them home safe.
"We want to prevent anything like that from ever happening again," said director of SURE Walk Krishan Sachdev.
Sachdev said because of Tuesday's crime they're expanding to other parts of campus
"We're going to have another base at the Flawn Academic Center and the Fine Arts Center, Winship, which is a really far building on campus," Sachdev said.
UT police said Wednesday they had no plans to add extra lights where the body was found and recommended students only walk in well lit areas. On Thursday, UT reached out to KVUE and said there have indeed been discussions about plans to light the area.
48 hours after the body was found
University authorities identify the woman
UT officials sent an email late Thursday morning to students and faculty with an update on the investigation:
Dear UT Community,
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, Oregon. 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.
UTPD first learned that Haruka was missing on Monday morning and immediately began a search. As I reported in my message to campus yesterday, Austin police are leading the homicide investigation into this horrifying and incomprehensible crime and working with UTPD and other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend a suspect quickly.
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.
At the press conference on Thursday, an official with APD said Weiser was seen leaving the F. Loren Winship Drama Building between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. Sunday. He said Weiser never made it to her dorm Sunday night. On Monday, Weiser's roommate reported her missing at around 11:30 a.m.
On Tuesday, a more thorough search resulted in the discovery of her remains in the Waller Creek. That's when UTPD called APD.
As police continued to investigate and ask for the public's help in finding the person of interest, Weiser's family thanked the public for their support. Fenves read a prepared statement from her family.
"Our beloved daughter, sister and friend was taken from us too soon. We will forever miss her," the statement read in part.
The statement also said Weiser was "so happy to be a student at UT Austin."
"If her death can somehow make it safer for a young woman to walk home and prevent another assault or murder, perhaps we can find meaning," the statement also said.
Who was Haruka Weiser?
A young woman -- with a bright future.
Weiser was a first-year theatre and dance student, originally from Portland, Ore. She was recruited to the UT dance program by faculty members when she was still in high school.
Though she was only a student at UT for eight months, she developed a reputation for being a sweet girl.
"Our university was made better by her presence," said UT President Fenves.
"She was liked and admired by her classmates and respected by her professors for her intelligence and her spirit," UT President Fenves said.
The pain her death brings to those who knew her can be seen across campus. Haruka's family, friends and classmates are struggling to understand why.
Haruka's family released this statement on the life of their beloved daughter, sister and friend:
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 it 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 of 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.
The UT tower was darkened Thursday night to honor Haruka's life. The weekend after her body was found, participants at the Longhorn run paused to remember her and the UT Dance Repertory Theatre also paid tribute to her in their first performance since her death. The UT community gathered April 11 to walk along the path Weiser took the night she died.
APD searches for suspect
During a press conference Thursday, APD released a description of a person of interest.
APD said if anyone saw a 6-foot man riding a pink or red woman's bicycle Sunday around 11 p.m. to contact them.
A weapon has not been recovered yet and police won't say much on how Haruka was murdered, but APD has continually called the attack brutal.
Professor remembers Haruka
"She was something very special to behold on stage."
UT Associate Professor of Dance Charles O. Anderson knew he had spotted a rising star the first time he watched Weiser dance in high school.
"We immediately started recruiting her to come to UT," Anderson told ABC News.
Anderson said the 18-year-old had impeccable technique. Your eye was drawn to her on stage even though she was only a freshman at UT.
"It's amazing how humble she was given her skill level," Anderson said.
Sunday night, the dance class rehearsed late preparing for Friday's spring concert -- not knowing it was the last time they would see Weiser.
"I think we're all in shock and angry and confused and heartbroken," Anderson said. "It's that feeling of knowing a young life was cut short and as faculty we are here to take care of our students and so I am angry. I'm angry on her behalf, her family's behalf, my colleague's behalf that her potential was cut short."
Weiser was truly one-of-a-kind.
"She is going to be missed," Anderson said.
Students remember Weiser
"We really are a community and a family, and our home has been violated by this awful crime," UT President Fenves said during a vigil held on campus.
Weiser's fellow theater and dance students lined the front of the crowd -- wearing matching T-shirts -- and holding hands.
The heads of her department spoke about Weiser's impact on them, on the program and on fellow classmates.
Cards and pens on nearby tables gave students a chance to leave a message.
The head of UT's student body challenged the crowd to do more than just remember Weiser.
"Think about your interests, and think about your passions," said UT student body president Kevin Helgren. "What for you, did for what dance did to Haruka."
Helgren said that's the way she would have wanted it.
72 hours after the body was found
17-year-old suspect taken into custody
A 17-year-old homeless man was taken into police custody in the death of Weiser overnight into Friday and police are planning to pursue charges against him Friday.
Sources confirmed to KVUE that Meechaiel Khalil Criner was arrested on a first-degree murder charge.
“We are very certain that the suspect we have in custody is responsible for the death of this beautiful woman,” APD Chief Art Acevedo said during a Friday morning news conference on the arrest.
According to the arrest affidavit, Criner was seen on surveillance camera shortly before 9:40 p.m. following Weiser across the bridge near the alumni center. Criner was not seen on camera until around 11:45 p.m., when he was walking eastbound along 23rd Street “with a slight limp” and carrying a second bag.
After the video of the suspect was released, Austin Fire Department Captain David Leonard informed APD that firefighters had responded to a call along the 2900 block of Medical Arts Street. Leonard told detectives that Criner was burning items inside an abandoned building. Authorities took Criner’s bicycle to a fire station for safe keeping and Criner himself to LifeWorks. Criner was also in possession of a duffel bag later identified by Weiser’s roommate as belonging to Weiser.
Officers took Criner into custody Thursday afternoon on suspicion of tampering with evidence. A search warrant was signed and executed on Criner’s assigned room at LifeWorks, and more evidence was recovered.
Criner has been charged with first-degree murder. Bond has been set at $1 million.
UT released the following statement from Weiser's family:
"Today we learned that the Austin Police Department has arrested an individual in connection with the death of our daughter, Haruka. 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.
Weiser's murder suspect: A homeless teen with a troubled past:
Criner, a teen in Texas' foster care system, was listed by Killeen police on March 24 as a runaway.
In a 2014 Texarkana Texas High School newspaper article titled "Voice of Hope," he spoke of an unstable childhood and abuse in the foster care system as a sophomore.
“I’ve been bullied almost my whole life,” Criner said in the article. Criner also spoke of being placed in the foster care system, and said he was a victim of physical violence while in a home.
Criner's troubled childhood has been revealed in court documents. In 2001, Criner was removed from his mother's home. In 2002, then 3-year-old Criner was awarded to his grandmother. Her custody was terminated in 2009 after court documents show she "hit Meechaiel in the face with a belt, leaving him with two black eyes."
Custody of Criner was transferred to an aunt who died last year. His arrest affidavit showed he is homeless and has been living in Central Austin, and his sister said he has mental illness.
Daryl Weinman, an attorney who has represented children and adults in Child Protective Services, said she is not surprised that someone with a history like Criner's could end being accused of committing such a horrific crime.
"When the system breaks down, everyone wants to know, 'Why didn't we do more?'" Weinman said.
Weinman said the major underlying problem is the lack of money. She said CPS and mental health are both severely underfunded. Weinman also said there aren't enough CPS caseworkers because they aren't paid enough and are overwhelmed. She added its the same with attorneys assigned to represent children and parents in CPS.
According to CPS, the average daily workload for an investigator in the Austin region in 2014, which covers 30 counties, is 24 cases.
"Way too many cases. And they're working 14 hours a day, six days a week. They can't keep up. They can't follow through with every single kid. You never know which kid is going to break," said Weinman.
Which is why Weinman said more money needs to be used on prevention -- getting children in state care the help they need, before it's too late.
The first court hearing for Criner began April 22. He was not present at the Travis County Courthouse, but his attorneys appeared.
Resources for students:
The university has several resources available for students, to help them feel physically safe and mentally sound in the wake of this tragedy.