A suspect was arrested Thursday in connection with the murder of Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Texas, Austin police confirmed Friday.
The suspect was identified as Meechaiel Criner, a 17-year-old homeless man, police said at a news conference Friday. He was booked at Travis County Jail on a charge of murder — a first degree felony.
"We don't know what the actual motive was," Austin Police Chief Art Aceveo said, adding that they expected further charges to be filed against him.
Weiser, a first-year ballet student in the Theater and Dance department, was last seen Sunday night leaving a building on campus. She sent a text to her roommate saying she was on her way to their dorm room. A missing person's report was filed Monday after Weiser did not return Sunday night or attend classes the next day.
On Tuesday, April 5, police found her body in Waller Creek, a route she frequently took to get back to her dorm from the F. Loren Winship Drama building on campus.
The Travis County medical examiner's office ruled the case a homicide but Acevdeo refused to reveal details on how she was killed.
Authorities recovered a small blue duffel bag from Criner which was believed to be Weisers. The bag contained personal items also believed be hers, police said.
Criner had no association with the University of Texas and police said he had not been in the Austin area for very long. Acevdeo said that they were working on getting a look at Criner's criminal history.
Austin police on Thursday released surveillance video of the suspect, described as a "black male, approximately 6 feet tall, with an athletic build." He was seen with a "red or pink woman's bicycle.
Acevedo said that fire department officials contacted police after they realized that the suspect in the surveillance video strongly resembled a suspect who was brought in for starting a trash fire Monday.
A "female member of the community" who called in the fire on Monday also "connected the dots" and told police that the young man who started the fire resembled the suspect in the footage released in connection with Weiser's murder.
Police also retrieved several items in the trash that appeared to belong to Weiser.
"I can say with a high degree of certainty and confidence that we have the suspect responsible for her murder," Acevedo said.
Relaying a message to the University of Texas community and police department from Weiser's mother, Acevedo said she asked them to "go home and hug your children, not once, but twice."
In a statement, Weiser's family described her as a "passionate and dedicated dancer and student" who was looking forward to performing again as a dance major and was declaring a second major in pre-med studies. Her family said she had planned to "explore the world of medicine this summer and to travel to visit family in Japan."
The statement said:
"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."
University of Texas president Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement that Weiser was a "beloved member of our dance community, liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professors for her intelligence and spirit."
"The unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family," he said.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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