Freshman found murdered on UT Austin campus

Fizza Gilani, Reporter

Haruka Weiser, a freshman dance major at University of Texas at Austin, was walking back to her dorm from rehearsals on the night of Sunday, April 3, but she never made it. Friends reported her missing the next day, but it was two days after her disappearance that she was found by campus officers in Waller Creek, murdered. A homicide investigation commenced.

Initially, police would not reveal many details. But lab tests and analysis confirmed that she was sexually assaulted and strangled. DNA samples collected from the victim’s body were identified as belonging to Meechaiel Khalil Criner, a 17-year-old homeless man living in Austin. Furthermore, police believed Criner matches a figure seen on surveillance footage from the night of Weiser’s death. The tapes revealed a man biking to the path Weiser regularly took to her dorm. He arrived about ten minutes before her class ended, and on camera, appeared to be attempting to open the doors of a parked van. The man left on the bike minutes later, but returned at 9:38 p.m. Surveillance footage also showed a woman walking toward the alumni center and looking down at her cellphone, around the same time. The man pulled out “what appeared to be a shiny rigid object” as she passed him, according to the affidavit reports. The stranger followed the woman across a bridge, and is seen again at 11:47 p.m., walking with a slight limp and carrying a duffel bag that matches Weiser’s.

Police found Criner near a trash fire on campus Friday. He was arrested and taken into custody. According to CNN, bond was set at $1 million. He was charged with first-degree murder, and will be tried as an adult in court. Research into the suspect’s background revealed that while he was growing up, his family was investigated on several occasions due to separate concerns. He had been under the care of Child Protective Services until he ran away in late March. As a child, he had endured abuse and bullying in the foster system and school.

The foster care agency responsible for Criner, LifeWorks, has also recently been scrutinized after news of recent child deaths was revealed and a federal court announced the entire Texas foster care system to be inhumane.

The death came as a shock to everyone on campus and in the city. Police chief Art Acevedo told CNN “that there had not been a homicide on campus since 1966.” According to one of Weiser’s friends, Jaelynn Blount, it’s “…kind of scary to think that could have been me or any one of us.”

To protect students from future attacks, security at UT Austin has been increased, and warnings have been issued to students to be careful. According to the president’s university, Greg Fenves, police patrols have also been increased, 20 state troopers have been sent to help with security, and the police have conducted a security review, checking all security technology to ensure that it was working. In addition to that, the university announced that they would provide transportation for students and staff during the evenings and late nights. The College of Fine Arts reported that it would pay for students using Ubers, taxis, or Lyfts after sunset.

Since Weiser’s passing, there have been multiple events remembering the bright young girl. Her family recounts her passion for dance and her commitment to it, being involved in ballet and hip-hop since she was a pre-teen. The university’s community decorated the path where she was killed with banners, candles, and flowers. A walk was arranged, outlining her path since her disappearance. It started at the F. Loren Winship Drama Building, where she was last seen, and ended at Waller Creek, where her body was found.

Weiser will certainly be honored by all at UT for the life she lived and remembered for the tragic death she died.