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Police arrest 17-year-old in Beaverton woman's murder

Tip from witness who saw someone start a small fire led to suspect

Haruka WeiserPolice in Austin, Texas, have arrested a 17-year-old boy in connection with the murder of Beaverton’s Haruka Weiser, whose body was discovered Tuesday on the University of Texas campus.

Police said Meechaiel Khalil Criner was taken into custody Thursday, April 7, and is being held in the Travis County Jail on a preliminary charge of murder. Police told reporters Friday morning that Criner would be formally charged later that day and that more charges could be added.

“We are very certain the suspect we have in custody is responsible for the death of Miss Haruka Weiser," Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a news conference.

Criner, who police said was homeless, was taken into custody several days after a man matching his description was reportedly burning what turned out to be possessions belonging to Weiser.

Meechaiel CrinerCriner came to their attention after Austin firefighters were called to that fire in a trash container on Monday, the day after Weiser disappeared on her way home from campus.

Firefighters took Criner to a temporary shelter in Austin. Firefighters later contacted police after seeing a police video of a suspect riding a bicycle in the area at the time of her death. According to firefighters, Criner was in possession of a woman’s bicycle that resembled the one in the video, police said.

A woman who called in the original fire incident also called police after seeing the video, believing the murder suspect might be the person involved with the fire, Acevedo said.

Criner also wore pants and shoes similar to the suspect depicted in the video.

Police believe that Criner might have been a fairly new arrival to Austin, which has a significant population of homeless people living to the west of campus, authorities said during the news conference.

What we know so far

According to police, Beaverton School District graduate Weiser was last seen Sunday evening, April 3, leaving a campus building at the University of Texas. Weiser's body was discovered two days later near a creek on campus. Police were looking for an African American man seen on surveillance video around the time of her death. A witness who reported the overnight fire identified the man in the video.

Police officials released the information during a press conference.

Weiser, 18, graduated last year from Beaverton's Arts & Communications Magnet Academy, and was a freshman at the university studying dance and pre-medicine.

Troy Gay, Austin's assistant chief of police, said that Weiser was last seen on Sunday, April 3, leaving the drama building at the University of Texas at about 9:30 or 9:45 p.m. on her way back to her dormitory.

“She never made it to her dorm that night,” Gay said.

Her roommates, concerned that Weiser hadn’t returned home, called the university police department to report her missing at about 11:30 p.m.

Her body was found Tuesday morning, April 5, in the Waller Creek area of the campus. A medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.

Gay said that a man seen in the area is a possible suspect in the case has not been identified. Surveillance video of the scene showed a black man, about 6 feet tall, riding a red or pink women’s bicycle in the area at the time of Weiser's death.

“We need the support of our community,” Gay said. “Law enforcement is but a few individuals compared to the larger population of Austin. Once we provide the information, we know the public will step up as they do in every case and help us ID the suspect.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the Austin Police Department, 512-974-5372.

Related coverage:

Beaverton woman found slain at University of Texas

Beaverton's ACMA mourns young dancer

Gay confirmed that Weiser had been assaulted, but would not elaborate about the cause of Weiser’s death. He announced a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the investigation.

In a statement read by University of Texas Austin President Gregory Fenves, Weiser’s family thanked the Austin community for its support:

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 of the support, the kindness and prayers 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. She was looking forward to the chance to perform again as a dance major and she was declaring as a pre-med studies major, too.

She had plans to explore the world of medicine this summer, and 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 it will all prevent another assault or murder.

Then, at least, we can find some meaning in an otherwise senseless and tragic death.

To her friends — many of the students at UT and her high school, and in all dance programs in which she participated we are united in prayer for Haruka and for each other. No parent or brother or sister or friend should have to face this kind of sadness, this kind of loss. Yet many do.

Now we have joined that family.

At UT, Haruka did make many friends and received so much support from this 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 the coming days.

We offer our prayers and encouragements for you to do the same.

Thank you for respecting our privacy at this time.

Reporter Eric Apalategui and news partner KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.

By Geoff Pursinger
Assistant Editor
The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood
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