Weiser’s body was found on campus Tuesday in Waller Creek by the university’s alumni center, a short walk from the drama building.
Acevedo said Criner was arrested yesterday without incident.
“I don’t have a clue what the motive is,” he said. He said Criner is not a student at the university and that there is no known connection between him and UT. He described Criner as homeless.
Acevedo said Weiser’s death was the first homicide on the University of Texas main campus since August 1966, when a sniper killed more than a dozen people and wounded many others in a rampage from high up in a clock tower. The slaying this week shocked the community as a manhunt for a man on a bicycle — captured in surveillance video — went on throughout the week.
“We are very certain,” Acevedo said, that the suspect is “responsible for the death of this beautiful young woman.”
Acevedo said a key break in the case came when Austin firefighters realized an incident they responded to Monday, involving a trash fire, was related to surveillance video of the suspect that police shared Thursday. In the video, a man is seen near the UT football stadium late Sunday with what appears to be a woman’s bike. Acevedo cited another piece of evidence linking Criner to the homicide: “a small blue duffel bag” that resembled one belonging to Weiser.
Acevedo declined to release more details about the slaying, citing on ongoing investigation. “We would be remiss if we started talking about specifics,” he said.
A December 2014 issue of a student publication, the Tiger Times, of Texas High School in Texarkana, Tex., contains an article about Criner headlined “Voice of hope.” The article, on page 12 and accompanied by a photograph of Criner, says the teenager was the victim of schoolyard taunts at an early age because of a “thick, African-like” accent.
“I’ve been bullied almost my whole life,” Criner was quoted as saying. “In elementary school, I would come home crying almost every day. It was because of my accent, you see. People couldn’t understand me.”
Criner told the Tiger Times that he had spent several months in foster care and later lived with a grandmother. The article portrays Criner as a victim of violence and bullying who wants to work to help others.
“I like to stand up for people,” Criner was quoted as saying. “I like to help others. … What I want to leave behind is my name – I want them to know who Meechaiel Criner is.”
Efforts to locate Criner’s grandmother and other relatives were not immediately successful Friday. A spokesperson for the Texarkana Independent School District declined to comment.
UT, the flagship public university in the state, has about 51,000 students, including 39,000 undergraduates. Officials emphasized that the campus is safe but urged students and others to be vigilant.
The grief in Austin over Weiser’s slaying reflected not only the pain at the loss of a classmate but also the outrage and distress that a young student with a bright future would be attacked senselessly at night in a place assumed to be safe.
The University of Virginia experienced similar pain when 18-year-old sophomore Hannah Graham was murdered in 2014. Graham’s body was found after she vanished one night in Charlottesville. Jesse L. Matthew Jr. pleaded guilty in March to abducting and murdering Graham and a Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, who was found dead outside Charlottesville in 2010.
UT President Gregory Fenves said Friday he wants the university to learn from Weiser’s death “and make this a better community and safer community for every member of it.”
In a statement to the campus community on Thursday, Fenves said Weiser’s death was “a tragic loss for the UT community.” He added:
Haruka was a beloved member of our dance community, liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professors for her intelligence and spirit. Dance faculty members first met Haruka more than two years ago when she performed at the National High School Dance Festival. They immediately began recruiting her to come to UT from her home in Portland, Oregon. Our community was made better by her decision to join the College of Fine Arts.Trained in ballet, Haruka excelled in all her performance endeavors. She was also involved in Dance Action, a student-run organization for dancers, and performed in the fall Dance Action concert.UTPD first learned that Haruka was missing on Monday morning and immediately began a search. As I reported in my message to campus yesterday, Austin police are leading the homicide investigation into this horrifying and incomprehensible crime and working with UTPD and other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend a suspect quickly.The unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family. Law enforcement is fully engaged to do everything to bring the perpetrator who committed this crime to justice.I ask you to join me in expressing our deepest condolences to Haruka’s parents, family, classmates and friends and to help the university honor her life.
The University of Texas also posted two messages to the community from Weiser’s family. The first, before the arrest of a suspect in the case:
Haruka Juliana Tsunemine Weiser, our beloved daughter, sister and friend was taken from us too soon. We will forever miss her; the pain of our sudden and tragic loss is unfathomable. We are grateful for all the support, kindness and prayers that have been offered to us. Words cannot express the outpouring of love we have received.Haruka was a passionate and dedicated dancer and student. She was so happy to be a student at UT and was looking forward to the chance to perform again as a Dance Major and she was declaring a second major in pre-med studies, too. She had plans to explore the world of medicine this summer and to travel to visit family in Japan.Although Haruka loved to perform on stage 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 a young woman to walk home, if it will prevent another assault or murder, then at least we could find some meaning behind an otherwise senseless and tragic death. To her friends, the many of students at UT and at her high school in all the dance programs in which she participated we are united in prayer for Haruka and for each other. No parent, brother, sister or friend should have to face this kind of sadness, this kind of loss.Yet, many do. And now we have joined that family. At UT, Haruka did make many friends and received so much support from this community. We know Haruka would not wish for us be stuck in sadness but to keep living life to the fullest; that is what we will try to do in the coming days. And we offer prayers and encouragement for you to do the same.Thank you for respecting our privacy at this time.
And a second message, on Friday, after the arrest:
Today we learned that the Austin Police Department has arrested an individual in connection with the death of our daughter, Haruka. We are grateful for the effective investigation by the Austin Police Department, the University of Texas Police and all who assisted with this case. We are relieved to hear this news.We remain steadfast in our desire to honor Haruka’s memory through kindness and love, not violence. To the police officers, the UT community and all who have been impacted by this, we just ask that you hug your children, hug your parents TWICE, one from you and one from us.Thank you for all the support you have shown us.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the day Weiser was reported missing. The article has been updated.
Matthew Watkins and Madlin Mekelburg of Texas Tribune contributed to this report.