AUSTIN, Texas – A 17-year-old suspect will be charged with murder Friday in the killing of a University of Texas dance major whose body was found in a creek on campus in Austin, police said.
Meechaiel Criner is in custody in Travis County Jail and he will be formally charged Friday afternoon in the slaying of 18-year-old Haruka Weiser, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference.
Acevedo said Criner was apprehended thanks to tips from the community, including the local fire department, who recognized the suspect from campus surveillance video.
He said investigators are certain that the suspect in custody is responsible for the death of Weiser, of Portland, on Sunday night.
Acevedo said earlier Friday the campus has extensive video monitoring and that the timing and location of the man caught on surveillance video and “a lot of things we’d rather not talk about” indicate he killed Weiser . It was the first killing on school grounds since a bell tower mass shooting nearly 50 years ago.
“We’re very confident, with a high degree of probability of confidence, that this is the person that, when we bring him in, that he’ll be the person responsible for this act,” Acevedo told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Police have not released details about how Weiser died, although authorities have repeatedly underlined the brutality of her killing. An autopsy shows she was assaulted, but police have refused to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
Weiser was last seen around 9:30 p.m. Sunday leaving UT’s drama building. Weiser’s roommates reported her missing shortly before noon Monday, and her body was discovered Tuesday in a creek near the alumni center and football stadium, an area bustling with activity day and night.
Police have released video of the suspect pushing a red or pink bicycle north of the stadium around 11 p.m. Sunday. Assistant Austin Police Chief Troy Gay said there was no indication that the man in the video was a student or that he specifically targeted Weiser. He said authorities believe the man was in the area for at least a couple of hours. He said no weapon has been recovered.
During a somber news conference Thursday, UT President Greg Fenves said the “unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family.” Students who spoke later in the day at a vigil that drew hundreds of people on the Austin campus said the killing will leave them unsettled during their nightly walks home.
In an email sent Friday morning, Fenves tried to reassure students and faculty that increased police patrols would continue on campus and that the Texas Department of Public Safety was working with university officials “to assess campus safety and security to identify possible improvements.”
Weiser’s was the first on-campus homicide since former Marine Charles Whitman climbed to the top of UT’s bell tower on Aug. 1, 1966, and opened fire, killing 16 people and wounding scores of others.
UT asked Austin police to lead the investigation with the help of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has assigned 20 state troopers to campus per day, including some on horseback. Gay said law enforcement is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Julane Stites, the artistic director at Dance West, a dance company in Beaverton, Oregon, which Weiser attended before leaving for Texas, said Weiser had “a dancer in her soul.” She said Weiser headed to the University of Texas with the largest scholarship any Dance West student had received.
“She adored ballet, but she was also an amazing modern dancer,” Stites said.
Weiser’s family said she had planned to take on a second, pre-med major soon and to travel to Japan this summer to see family, according to Fenves.
“She was so happy to be a student at UT and was looking forward to the opportunity to perform again as a dance major,” said Fenves, reading a statement from Weiser’s family. “We know Haruka would not wish for us to be stuck in sadness but to keep living life to the fullest. That is what we will try to do in coming days.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.