A theater and dance freshman at the University of Texas was found dead on campus in mysterious circumstances on April 5. On April 7, a statement from the school’s president, Gregory L. Fenves, confirmed the identity of the victim as 18-year-old Haruka Weiser who was originally from Portland. In his remarks, Fenves described Weiser’s death as “a tragic loss for the UT community.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Austin Police Have Arrested a 17-Year-Old Suspect Named Meechaiel Khalil Criner
Weiser was first reported missing on April 4, having not been seen since April 3, two days before her body was found in the Waller Creek area of the University of Texas. The area is close to the school’s alumni center.
It was announced on the morning of April 8 that a suspect had been arrested. He was named as Meechaiel Khalil Criner, 17.
She was last seen leaving the drama building at around 9:30 p.m. on April 3. Her room mates called police later that night when they never heard from her.
Austin Patch reported that her body was located between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on April 5. Thanks to U.S. Marshals, there is a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. So far, the only description of a person of interest is a black male standing a 6 feet tall.
Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay said during a press conference that Weiser was “assaulted” prior to death. In that same briefing, a statement from Weiser’s family was read out, it read in part, “We will forever miss her. The pain of our sudden and tragic loss is unfathomable.” Her family also said:
Haruka Weiser, our beloved daughter, sister and friend was taken from us too soon…
We are grateful for all the support, kindness prayers that have been offered to us. 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 another young woman to walk home, if it would prevent another assault or murder, then at least we could find meaning in a senseless tragic death…
The ultimate goal here is we want to see justice.
Anybody with any information is asked to call 512-974-5372.
When her body was found President Fenves said, “It’s a tragic day. Our home has been violated… It’s a difficult and tragic day for our campus community. Our hearts go out to the victim and their family.” In the wake of the discovery, KEYE reported that the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety would both be patrolling the school’s campus and surrounding area.
One student Stephanie Sandoval said that she could smell something strange coming from Waller Creek on the day Weiser’s body was discovered. She told KVUE, “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.”
While another, Nidia Cavazos, told the station, “I was in class and the news was everywhere. All of a sudden students were talking, the professor took time to read it in his phone.” She also spoke about the immediate questions that were apparent, “Is it somebody that’s out there and loose? Out for more students.”
2. She Was a Dance Major Who Specialized in Hip-Hop & Ballet; But Also Dreamed of Following Her Father Into Medicine
In his statement, President Fenves described Weiser as a “beloved member of the dance community, liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professor for her intelligence and spirit.” The above video shows her performing in a dance show in March 2016. A month before her death. On the Facebook page for Dance West, a dance school in Beaverton, Oregon, Weiser wrote in June 2015:
I love to dance because it constantly challenges me. I love that there is a finished, perfect product. My dancing is constantly changing as I strive to improve. Because of this, I find that even the smallest successes can be the most rewarding.
In a separate post on the school’s Facebook page, Weiser wrote, “My favorite styles of dance are ballet and hip-hop. I love the precision and grace of ballet, but at the same time, I enjoy the freedom and challenges I find in hip-hop.”
A family member told the Austin Statesman that Weiser also had dreams of going into some kind of medical field and planned to eventually double major in medicine.
That would have meant she was following in the footsteps of her father, Dr. Thomas Weiser. According to his Facebook page, he’s a graduate of UC Davis School of Medicine. His particular passion in his professional career has been in improving medical care for Native Americans. Dr. Weiser also served in the military.
In a question and answer session on the Dance West Facebook page in May 2015, she wrote that her other interests were cooking and the outdoors.
Weiser would also speak about her love of dance in a 2014 Portland Tribune article where she’s quoted as saying:
Every time before a show, for me at least, it gets really rough. I’ll be like, ‘I want to quit. I never want to dance again.’ And as soon as the show happens, I’m back in it.
It really is a rush. There really is nothing like it, and it is so short. To people who maybe are more logical than me, it’s not worth it. But somehow that cycle of it just keeps happening over and over again and keeps you going.
That piece, which was written when Weiser was 17, mentions that she was a student at the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton, Oregon. A spokesperson for the district, Maureen Wheeler, told People that Weiser attended school in the district from sixth grade until graduation. Wheeler said, “She was well loved, and very, very talented.”
3. Her Family Last Saw Her During a Spring Break Trip to Mexico
The Austin Statesman reports that Weiser’s family still live in Oregon. The newspaper adds that the family were all together during a trip to Mexico over spring break.
On her Facebook page, it’s clear that Weiser enjoyed traveling. There are photos from 2013 and 2014 showing her in Europe with her family. While pictures from earlier in 2016 show her in Asia and in a statement her family said Weiser planned to travel to Japan in the summer of 2016 to visit family.
4. She’s Being Mourned by Classmates & Friends on Twitter
As news of Weiser’s death spread, her school announced that counselor services would be available to students affected by the events. Other friends and classmates took their grief to Twitter to offer prayers for Weiser’s family.
Here are some of the most poignant messages:
5. This Is the First On-Campus Homicide Investigation at UT Since the Charles Whitman Shootings in 1966
This is the first time that there has been an on-campus murder investigation at the University of Texas since 1966. On August 1 of that year, former Marine and engineering student at the school Charles Whitman killed 16 people, 14 on the UT campus. Prior to opening fire from the school’s tower, Whitman killed his wife and mother at their home. The rest were killed as Whitman opened fire from the University of Texas tower.