Suspect wielded ‘shiny rigid object’ moments before University of Texas student was slain

Jason Sickles

The 17-year-old charged in the on-campus slaying of a University of Texas student was seen on a security camera video trailing the victim with a “shiny rigid object” in his hands, according to a police arrest affidavit.

The body of freshman dance major Haruka Weiser, 18, was found on Tuesday in a creek near the school’s football stadium.

Haruka Weiser (via Facebook)

Meechaiel Khalil Criner, 17, was charged with murder Friday afternoon. He is in the Travis County Jail with bond set at $1,000,000.

According to the affidavit, Criner had Weiser’s blue duffel bag and laptop when he was arrested Thursday evening at a shelter for homeless youths.

Detectives also “found an article of evidence that matched the same texture, age and appearance of an article seized on or near the victim’s body,” police wrote in the affidavit. No other details are included about that evidence.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said it’s difficult to comprehend what would drive a person to do what Criner allegedly did to Weiser.

“When you think about what connects us as human beings, to murder a young woman, is just not part of my DNA and thankfully is not part of most people’s DNA,” the chief said.

The court document, which was made public Friday afternoon, is the authorities’ first account of the events that transpired the night Weiser was killed while walking from dance practice back to her dormitory.

Weiser was last known to be alive when she called her roommate about 9:30 p.m. Sunday to say she was “on the way,” the affidavit states. Surveillance video gathered during the murder investigation shows a black male matching Criner’s description trying to get into a locked van near the College of Liberal Arts building about 9:20 p.m. The man left on a small bicycle, but returned to the area 18 minutes later. Police say that’s when Weiser, a ballerina attending UT on a dance scholarship, walked past Criner while looking down at her cellphone.

Meechaiel Criner's mugshot, released Friday by the Austin Police Department.

Police said Criner "[put] the kickstand down on the bike, reaches into the back of his pants with his left hand and pulled out what appeared to be a shiny rigid object.” Criner then followed the 18-year-old ballerina across a bridge and onto a trail that runs along a creek where Weiser’s remains were discovered on Tuesday, police said.

According to the affidavit, the suspect does not appear on video again until two hours later, when he is seen walking the same bicycle near the football stadium. This time, police said, Criner was carrying a small duffle bag he didn’t have earlier and walking with a limp.

“From the footage, it appeared as if the suspect suffered from some type of injury to his left leg,” the affadivit states.

SLIDESHOW – University of Texas homicide in Austin >>>

Police got a break in the case late Thursday after they requested the public’s help in identifying the man in the video.

Austin firefighters quickly contacted police to say they had encountered someone similar to the suspect while responding to a fire at an abandoned building Monday morning. According to the affidavit, Criner was found inside the building setting items on fire. Police were called to the scene because Criner told firefighters that he was 17 and homeless.

Julie Moody, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, told Yahoo News that Criner was a foster child and had been reported as a runaway before Monday. Officers took Criner to the youth shelter, where he stayed until detectives connected him to Weiser’s death.

Jail records show Criner was booked into the Travis County Jail at 2:05 a.m. on Friday.

According to public records, Criner was living in Texarkana, Texas, 375 miles northeast of Austin, last summer. Records don’t indicate prior arrests for Criner, and Acevedo said detectives are still trying to piece together the suspect’s past.

Meechaiel Criner, the suspect arrested in Haruka Weiser's killing, was featured in his high school newspaper in December 2014. (Screenshot)

Criner was featured in the December 2014 edition of his high school newspaper, the Tiger Times. According to the story, titled “Voice of hope,” Criner was bullied as a child because of his “thick, African-like” accent.

“In elementary school, I would come home crying almost every day,” he said in the story. “It was because of my accent, you see. People couldn’t understand me.”

A photo of Criner accompanies the article, located on page 12. In the story, Criner said he had been able to keep a positive outlook on life despite being rejected by his alcoholic birth mother and being abused in foster care.

“Every day, I feel people think I’m not capable of much,” Criner said. “What I want to leave behind is my name — I want them to know who Meechaiel Criner is.”

 

Weiser’s death is the university’s first on-campus homicide investigation since sniper Charles Whitman gunned down 14 people nearly 50 years ago from the UT Tower.

UT police chief David Carter said the school will review campus security measures, but encouraged students and faculty to be conscious of their surroundings.

“Not necessarily walking at night alone or walking while texting or being distracted in an environment that you’re not familiar with or comfortable with,” Carter said. “The point is we really believe we have a safe campus and a community, but it requires the community to step up and do its part as well.”

University president Gregory L. Fenves disclosed the development in the case in an email sent to the campus early Friday.

“I ask that we all continue to support Haruka’s parents, family and classmates as they grieve their beloved daughter and friend,” Fenves wrote. “Our mourning is ongoing. Even as we hear new announcements and reports, we must honor Haruka’s life.”

 

Details about how Weiser was murdered — a crime the university president described as “horrifying and incomprehensible” — have not been made public. The affidavit only states that the medical examiner noted obvious trauma to Weiser's body and ruled the death a homicide.

The school’s 50,000 students, one of the largest universities in the country, have been on heightened alert since the 18-year-old’s body was discovered in the campus creek Tuesday morning.

UT students have established an online fund to help Weiser’s family with expenses.

In a statement released by the university, Weiser’s family expressed relief that an arrest had been made and thanked the officers who worked on the case.

“We remain steadfast in our desire to honor Haruka’s memory through kindness and love, not violence,” the family said. “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."

(This story has been updated since it was originally published.)

Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).