Her name was Haruka and she deserved better than to die

Haruka Weiser

BY LEW K. COHN, MANAGING EDITOR
HIGHLAND LAKES NEWSPAPERS
Her name was Haruka and she decided to study at the University of Texas at Austin because it offered her the opportunity to do what she always wanted to do – dance – while she contemplated a second major in pre-med.
Her name was Haruka and she had been a beautiful, lithe ballet dancer from Portland, Ore., who was well-liked and admired by her classmates and professors and seen as an outstanding talent by those who took the stage with her as part of Dance Action, a student-run dance organization.
Her name was Haruka and she had been recruited to the University of Texas more than two years prior, when faculty members from the university saw her perform at the National High School Dance Festival and caught their eye. She seemed to be a perfect fit for the close-knit program, which has only about 60 members.
Her name was Haruka and she had been living on campus for about eight months in a student dormitory. She knew well the route she would take Sunday, April 3, to get back from the Winship Drama Building off San Jacinto, alongside tranquil Waller Creek as it ran behind the Etta-Harbin Alumni Center, across from the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and down the campus past the dormitories on 21st Street, where Haruka lived. She had even texted her roommate that she would be walking home at about 9:30 p.m. that night.
Her name was Haruka, and she didn't know, couldn't have known and couldn't have foreseen that she would never make it back to her dorm and never be seen alive again by anyone who knew her or loved her. She couldn't know and couldn't have foreseen that she would be killed, allegedly, by a 17-year-old homeless man, and her body would be discarded like trash being tossed out effortlessly into the creek bed behind the alumni center, where it would not be found until 10:30 a.m. Tuesday by a UT police officer.
Her name was Haruka Weiser, and at the tender age of 18, she died in a most uncommon way, a homicide victim on a campus which had not seen any murders committed on its grounds in nearly 50 years since Charles Whitman shot 14 people in cold blood from atop the UT Tower in August 1966. Her name was Haruka Weiser and she was a rare victim of a violent crime on a campus which prides itself as being one of the safest in the nation when it comes to crimes against persons.
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Not only had there been no murders or manslaughters committed during the period from 2011-2013 at the Austin campus, per reports from the University of Texas Police Department, but there had only been 19 forcible sex offenses reported, three robberies and 11 aggravated assaults at a school of more than 50,000 students.
The school offers a program called SURE Walk which provides students with escorts to help them get safely from campus libraries to dormitories and there are many blue-light phones placed in strategic areas that allow a caller to directly ring UTPD.
Security cameras exist at certain points around the university and one caught video footage of a man walking a woman's bicycle outside the north gate of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium at about 11 p.m., not far from where the crime occurred.
After Austin police released the video to local media for help in locating  this “person of interest,” a woman who reported a trash fire near campus Monday recognized the man in the video as the person who started the fire and alerted police. Firefighters had taken the man, identified as 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner, to a temporary shelter since he was homeless. When firefighters alerted police to his whereabouts as well as the location of the fire, investigators sifting through the trash bin found items which appeared to belong to Haruka Weiser.
Criner was then located at the shelter, questioned and arrested without incident on a charge of murder. He had with him the bicycle as well as a bag which resembles a blue one owned by Haruka Weiser and her Apple laptop, with the Portland, Oregon, sticker she lovingly placed still on it.
Per an arrest affidavit used to apprehend Criner, it appears that surveillance video taken from the College of Liberal Arts appears to show a woman who was identified as Haruka Weiser passing by a man on a bicycle who appears to be Criner at about 9:38 p.m. The man puts down the kickstand of his bicycle, pulls out what appears to be a “shiny, rigid object” out of the back pocket of his pants, and is seen following the woman across the Waller Creek bridge and onto a sidewalk behind the Alumni Center. The suspect is not seen again until 11:47 p.m. when he is walking along 23rd Street on the north side of the stadium, carrying an additional bag which resembles the one Haruka Weiser was carrying, and limping on his left leg, as if he had been injured somehow during the missing two-hour gap in accounting for his whereabouts.
Criner has been arrested and charged with first degree murder and is being held on bond of $1 million as set by District Judge Brenda Kennedy.
It has since been uncovered that Criner was a native of Texarkana and had been interviewed as a sophomore by the Tiger Times, the student newspaper at Texas High School in Texarkana, about his 
upbringing, his transfer by Child Protective Services from his mother to grandmother after suffering abuse in the foster care system, and being bullied at school.
The interview shows a young man who wants to break a cycle of abuse and “stand for others.” However, what is most haunting is the final quote in the interview.
“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.”
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As a UT graduate who spent a lot of time on the Forty Acres, I know the area where Haruka was killed very well. I had been visiting the Alumni Center every home game from when my family first moved to Austin in 1984 when I was 14 through fall of my senior year in 1991.
I know Waller Creek. Because a statute of limitations is up, I can reveal my involvement with a group of freshmen in “liberating” a stop sign next to Old Gregory Gym at the corner of 21st Avenue and Speedway. We took the sign (pole and all) down into the creek and ran it back up to Simkins Dormitory. It was stupid, teenage, college student stuff and looking back on it, I think, “Dang, we were dumb!”
I never felt like my life was in danger on the campus, even though it is an open campus. I would often escort young women who were my friends when they wanted to walk at night out of courtesy. That was how I was raised by my parents and grandmothers, to be a gentleman.
But this case hits home even harder because I am a parent now and one with college age children. I have one daughter, Madeline, who just finished college last year and is headed to med school. I have another, Rachel, who is a junior at UNT. My stepson Brandon is the same age as Haruka Weiser and is also a freshman at a college in the Dallas area. I can identify with Haruka Weiser being like my kids and it scares me that what can happen to her can happen to them.
I look at Haruka's face and I see Madeline or Rachel or Brandon looking back at me. It breaks my heart for the Weiser family to suffer the loss of a child. I went through it myself when my stepdaughter Sarah was killed in an automobile accident more than 10 years ago.
However, I know Sarah's death was exactly that – an accident. There was no accident which claimed the life of Haruka Weiser. It was murder, it was evil, and I hope that whoever committed this heinous act, whether it was Criner or someone else, must pay the ultimate price for robbing the world of a beautiful life. The saddest part is that when that day does come, he will have lived a lot longer than poor Haruka ever got the chance to do.
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