AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Investigators have arrested a suspect in the killing of a first-year dance student whose body was found in a creek on the University of Texas campus, Austin police said Friday.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner is in custody in Travis County Jail and that he will be formally charged Friday afternoon in the slaying of 18-year-old Haruka Weiser.
Acevedo said Criner was apprehended thanks to a campus surveillance video that led to tips from the community, including the local fire department.
He said investigators are certain that the suspect in custody is responsible for Weiser’s death. Weiser, of Portland, Oregon, was last seen alive on Sunday evening. Her body was found on Tuesday.
Police have not released details about how she 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.
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.
Gay played surveillance video of the man he described as a suspect pushing a red or pink bicycle north of the stadium around 11 p.m. Sunday. 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.
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.
In response to the slaying, the university expanded programs in which police escort students across campus to ensure their safety. School officials also are urging students to walk in groups and avoid walking at night or while distracted with cellphones or headphones.
“To our students, you expect and deserve to be safe,” Fenves said.
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.”