A 20-year-old college student was fatally shot in a road rage incident while driving her friends home from a New Year’s Eve party, police say.
Sara Mutschlechner, who was a junior at the University of North Texas, died on Friday after she was taken off life support, Denton Police said in a press release.
A suspect in the shooting, 20-year-old active duty U.S. Marine Corporal Eric Jamal Johnson, was arrested Monday in Arizona, at his base. Read more about Johnson here.
According to police, three of Mutschlechner’s friends were in her car when a dark-colored Lexus or Toyota SUV pulled up next to them. “Several words were exchanged between the occupants of the SUV and the occupants in the victim’s vehicle. As both vehicles were crossing the University Drive intersection, an occupant in the SUV fired multiple rounds at the victim.
She was shot in the head and crashed the car into another vehicle and an electrical pole. The SUV drove off, police said. Mutschlechner and one of her friends, who suffered minor injuries, were taken to the hospital.
Mutschlechner, a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, was not drinking at the party because she was serving as her friend’s designated driver, police said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say ‘5 or 6 African American Males’ Were in the SUV
Denton Police said they have a person of interest in the shooting, Eric Jamal Johnson, who is being held in custody in Arizona. Court documents show witnesses say he was driving the SUV and was seen with a handgun.
Witnesses told police there were “five or six African American males” in the SUV, according to a press release.
Police are still searching for the SUV and the other occupants, KVUE-TV reports.
“We’re following up on some leads, but we can’t release a suspect’s name at this time,” Officer Shane Kizer told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
2. At Least 2 Occupants of the SUV Were at the Same Party as Mutschlechner & Her Friends
Witnesses told police that at least two of the black males in the SUV were at the same New Year’s Eve party as Mutschlechner and her friends.
“It was learned though the investigation so far that approximately 60 people attended the New Year’s Eve party that Sara had attended earlier,” police said in a press release.
Police released a flyer that was used to advertise the party:
“Investigators are asking that anyone who attended the party and took pictures or video to please contact Investigator Beckwith at 940-349-7974,” police said.
The DJ at the party, Denis McInerny, told the Dallas Morning News he didn’t see any fights or disturbances, but added there might have been a scuffle outside.
“The whole shooting thing caught me off-guard judging by the crowd that was there,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t think the events were related in any way.”
Officer Shane Kizer told ABC News, “We’re sure that a lot of people at the party would’ve recognized who was in that vehicle and maybe be able to tell us who they were. We’ve got a lot of people that we’re wanting to talk with at this time.”
3. Hundreds Gathered for a Vigil at the University of North Texas
Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on the campus of the University of North Texas on New Year’s Day.
“It’s a very sad for thing for us whenever we lose a member of the university community,” the university’s spokeswoman, Margarita Venegas, told the Dallas Morning News, adding condolences to Mutschlechner’s family.
“There are so many people that knew her, that she touched their lives,” her father, Clay Mutschlechner told ABC News.
“She was friends with everyone,” her mother, Gloria Mutschlechner, said.
“Each and every one of our lives at the Gamma Phi Chapter of ZTA has been touched by the spunky, selfless attitude of our beloved sister, Sara,” ZTA chapter president Jordan Roberts said in a Facebook post. “She is by far one of the most spirited, honest and fun-loving people I ever had the privilege to know. She will truly be missed.”
4. She Was an ‘Avid Movie-Goer’ Majoring in Radio, Television & Film
Mutschlechner was a junior at the University of North Texas, major in radio, television and film. On her LinkedIn page, she wrote about her love for movies:
Growing up I was entranced by the beauty of cinema and as an avid movie-goer I one day decided that this – this beautiful thing I so enjoyed watching – was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. The more I dive into the film industry the more I realize just how much I enjoy the process of film production and how I love the way a film can affect not just a single person, but society as a whole. I want to inspire change just as much as I want to inspire future filmmakers, like myself, to continue creating beautiful and original works of art.
She also worked as a photographer at Smiling Eyes Photo Gallery, and as a server at Frilly’s Seafood Bayou Kitchen.
“Sara was a very sweet person, always friendly, and talented in the Media Arts program and Short Film Club organization on campus,” Jordan Wright, president of the Short Film Club, told the Dallas Morning News. “Nobody could have been prepared for what happened early this morning … we are all still having trouble registering the events that have taken place so rapidly and tragically.”
Last year, she created a silent film with another student, Preston Webber, called Janet and Alice, a “silent horror short” about two girls trying to escape a cult ritual.
Her friends said she wasn’t a typical sorority girl. She had a “wide array of friends” across campus and many interests, her sorority sister, Taylor Phillips, told the newspaper. She was a black belt in taekwondo and wanted to open a martial arts gym someday, Phillips said.
5. She Grew Up in Martindale, Texas & Graduated From San Marcos High School
Mutschlechner grew up in Martindale, Texas, and graduated from San Marcos High School. Neighbors said she was sweet, outgoing and happy.
“I was stunned. I mean they’re my neighbors, known them for about the past 15 years so it’s a very sad day,” Frank De Leon told KVUE-TV. ”
She was on the drum line in high school, neighbors said, and was an only child.
“Just a typical teenage girl that was just having fun with life,” neighbor Dan Langen told the news station. “Just a really quiet family. You never heard a peep out of anybody there. It’s just so shocking to hear this because they’re a really, really nice family.”