Austin Police Make Arrest in Connection With Student Killed On UT Campus

The body of Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old freshman from Oregon, was found in a creek Tuesday

A homeless 17-year-old has been arrested and will be charged with murder in the slaying of 18-year-old University of Texas freshman Haruka Weiser, Austin police say.

Police detained Meechaiel Khalil Criner Thursday on a tampering charge after receiving tips from an unidentified female and the Austin Fire Department that Criner, who they say started a trash fire in an abandoned building early Monday, matched the description released Thursday of a person of interest in the case, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said Friday morning.

Criner has been booked into the Travis County Jail and will be formally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, on Friday afternoon, Acevedo said. He has been ordered to be held on $1 million bond.

Criner has no known connection to the university and police "don't have a clue what the motive is."

"We are very certain that the subject we have in custody... is responsible for the death of this beautiful young woman," Acevedo said Friday.

Weiser, of Portland, Oregon, was a "beloved" first-year dance and theater student, according to school officials. She was reported missing by her roommates Monday morning after she didn't return home Sunday.

Her body was found near Waller Creek Tuesday near the football stadium.

UT President Gregory L. Fenves said Weiser was "liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professors for her intelligence and spirit."

The Travis County medical examiner ruled Weiser's death a homicide, but Austin police have not revealed details of the attack, citing an ongoing investigation. An arrest warrant affidavit released Friday afternoon said there was obvious trauma to Weiser's body and that swabs of suspected biological matter found at the scene was secured for future analysis. Additionally, Weiser's possessions, including a laptop and her shoes, were missing.

Austin police released surveillance video Thursday afternoon showing a person of interest in the case in the area several times between 9:20 p.m. and midnight.

The arrest warrant affidavit said at 9:38 p.m. the person can be seen in the area watching a woman walking toward the alumni center while looking at her phone. As she passed the suspect, police said he put the kickstand down on the bike and pulled what appeared to be a shiny rigid object from his back pocket. He then followed the woman across the bridge and onto the sidewalk that extends behind the alumni center and along the west bank of Waller Creek.

In a later clip, the affidavit said the suspect was seen walking with a slight limp and was carrying a bag that was not seen in the video before.

A homeless 17-year-old identified by Austin police as Meechaiel Criner has been arrested in connection with the slaying of 18-year-old University of Texas freshman Haruka Weiser.

The footage was shared publicly Thursday and members of the Austin Fire Department and a female community member told police the man looked like a homeless teen who started a trash fire Monday morning. They said police had transferred the teen to a homeless shelter and the woman's bike he was riding was held for safe keeping by the fire department.

Investigators returned to the scene of the fire and found what appeared to be partially burned belongings, including a shoe, that may have belonged to Weiser.

Police said Thursday the person of interest was riding a pink or purple women's bike. Criner was also in possession of a small blue duffel bag believed to be Weiser's, police said, as well as some of her property including a laptop affixed with a Portland sticker.

Police expect to file additional charges against Criner as the investigation continues, according to Acevedo.

"Whoever she [Haruka] touched, it was a blessing, and I’m just glad and thankful that we’re going to bring justice to that family and that we’re going to restore the sense of safety that this campus and this community has always enjoyed," Acevedo said.

Acevedo said Weiser's mother asked him for a favor Friday morning — to thank those who worked on the investigation into her daughter's death — and to "also please tell them to take care of themselves. And go home and hug your children, not once, but twice."

According to Acevedo, Austin is the second-safest large city in the U.S. and — prior to Weiser's death — the campus had not seen a homicide since Charles Whitman killed 16 people while shooting from the UT Tower in 1966. Nonetheless, Acevedo and UT Police Chief David Carter urged students to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

"We believe this is a safe campus however this tragedy has us redoubling our efforts," said Carter, adding that police have stepped up patrols in the wake of Weiser's slaying. "We need to address threats wherever they might be found."

Fenves, the university president, said UT "will continue to stand with the family" of Weiser and seeks to "make her death an occasion to look at the safety of this community and others, and to find some meaning behind an otherwise meaningless and senseless death."

A $15,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest. It's not clear if the reward has been granted.

Meechaiel Khalil Criner Arrest Warrant Affidavit

NBC's Ari Mason contributed to this report.

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