Austin Police arrested Meechaiel Khalil Criner, a 17-year-old homeless man, Friday on a charge of first-degree murder for the death of University of Texas freshman student Haruka Weiser.
“We are very certain that the suspect we have in custody is responsible for the death of this beautiful woman,” Austin Police chief Art Acevedo said during a Friday morning news conference on the arrest.
Criner’s arrest was the culmination of nearly a week of joint police investigation across multiple departments and was aided by multiple tips from the community.
“The reason this case has been cracked is that we are blessed to work and serve a community that is engaged, involved, and willing to stand up for their neighbors,” Chief Art Acevedo said.
During Friday’s news conference, Acevedo laid out a timeline of the investigation that led to Criner’s arrest for the death of Weiser, 18.
The first break came when Austin Fire responded to the 2900 block of Medical Arts Street for a trash fire on Tuesday. Austin Police transported a man who turned out to be the suspect to Lifeworks because he was determined to be homeless and Austin Fire took possession of a woman’s bike that was with the homeless man.
Acevedo said thanks to those tips, detectives were able to connect the dots and identify Meechiael Criner as the suspect.
According to an 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, AFD Capt. Lenard informed APD that firefighters had responded to a call along the 2900 block of Medical Arts Street. Lenard 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.
Acevedo said police don’t have a motive at this point for the death, but said they expect more charges to be filed against the alleged killer. Chief Acevedo also said that there was no known relationship between Criner and the University of Texas.
Chief Acevedo teared up as he read a brief statement from Weiser’s mom that thanked everyone involved in the case and also had a note for everyone, “Go home and hug your children, not once, but twice.”
University of Texas President Greg Fenves said the quick investigation and arrest was “an impressive work and collaboration among law enforcement groups” and that the arrest brought a “tremendous relief” to everyone on the campus.
President Fenves also addressed the family of Weiser saying, “I can’t imagine a more heroic, courageous, and strong family under circumstances that no family should ever have to face.”
Fenves said that the students expect to be safe on the campus and all of the extra security he ordered earlier this week will remain in place. UT Police also said that the campus is safe, but they will continue to step up their efforts and examine everything about the campus for security enhancements.
Killeen police said Friday that Criner was listed as a runaway on March 24.
Criner has been charged with first-degree murder. Bond has been set at $1 million.
ABC News has learned from one of Criner’s relatives that his family plans to travel to Austin to find out what happened. That relative added that he suffered from mental issues.