Meechaiel Criner was charged with the murder of Haruka Weiser, who was found in a creek on Tuesday

By Elaine Aradillas
Updated April 08, 2016 11:05 AM
Credit: Austin Police Department

brightcove.createExperiences(); The Austin Police Department arrested a suspect in connection with the death of Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old ballet student at the University of Texas who was found in a creek on Tuesday.

Meechaiel Criner, a homeless 17-year-old, has been charged with first degree murder, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a Friday press conference.

Acevedo said police got a report of a trash fire on Monday, which they determined Criner started. After surveillance video related to Haruka’s murder surfaced, a woman called authorities saying the person in the video resembled the person allegedly connected to the trash fire – Criner.

After the trash fire, authorities initially took Criner to Life Works, a local homeless shelter.

“We are very certain that the suspect we have in custody is the suspect responsible for the death of this young woman,” Acevedo said.

He said authorities have in their possession a duffel bag and other possessions they believe to be Haruka’s. He said Criner was initially detained for tampering with evidence.

Acevedo did not know Criner’s alleged motive, saying at the press conference, “I have no clue what the motive is.”

He said that authorities will proceed cautiously in releasing details of the investigation, saying, “Our number one responsibility is to a family who lost a daughter. There are only two people that know definitely what happened – the suspect and the victim. we would be remiss if we started talking specifics of investigation.”

Acevedo said “homelessness is not a crime,” and added, “We will focus on behavior and not socioeconomic standing.”

Acevedo said that Austin was “an extremely safe city,” and that the campus was safe, saying there hadn’t been a homicide on campus since 1966. That year, Charles Joseph Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 32 when he began shooting people inside the university’s tower.

According to Acevedo, Haruka’s mother told him before the press conference started to tell his colleagues and everyone at the University of Texas “to take care of themselves and go home and hug your children.”

Acevedo added: “No one should have to bury a child, especially a girl like Haruka with such a beautiful spirit,” he said.

Candlelight Vigil for Haruka

At a candlelight vigil honoring Weiser Thursday evening, the iconic Tower on campus was darkened in honor of Weiser, according to a tweet sent out by the school.

At a Thursday press conference, Austin Police Chief Troy Gay said that on Sunday night, Haruka was seen leaving the drama building. He said that she communicated with her friend, and that authorities believe she was traveling back to her dormitory, but she never made it.

Her roommates called the university’s police department to report her missing at around 11:30 p.m., Gay said. Police tried to locate her, but they were unable to do so until Tuesday morning, when Gay said, they conducted a more thorough search and found her remains in the Waller Creek area.

In a statement, Haruka’s parents said she was a dance major preparing to double major in pre-med.

“Haruka, our beloved daughter, sister and friend was taken from us too soon,” the family’s statement said.

“The pain from our sudden and tragic loss is unfathomable,” the statement said.

At Thursday’s press conference, Bob Harkins, Vice President of Campus Safety and Security, said there has been increased security on campus in the wake of the attack. The Austin Police Department has offered 20 officers in addition to campus officers.

According to a tweet by a University of Texas student, if campus escorts are not available through the SURE Walk program, the College of Fine Arts will reimburse any Fine Arts students Uber or Lyft rides from campus to their car or residence between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.