Police have released a booking photo of 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner. Criner is charged with first degree murder for the death of 18-year-old UT freshman student Haruka Weiser.
"The reason that this case has been cracked is because we in the City of Austin are blessed to work and serve a community that is engaged, involved, and willing to stand up for their neighbors," said Chief of Police Art Acevedo during a press conference on Friday, April 8.
A crucial tip came from Austin firefighters who on Monday put out a trash fire near the scene of the crime. They told police the man in the video looked like the person who started the fire, Acevedo said. They also took the man's bike which looked like the one in the video.
The chief said police took down Criner's name and then took him to a homeless shelter.
Acevedo said another tipster was a woman who reported the fire. She also contacted police after she saw a resemblance to the video.
"I don't have a clue what the motive is," Acevedo said, adding that Criner could face additional charges.
He said there were items recovered from the trash fire that may have belonged to Weiser.
The chief declined to say how Weiser was killed.
UT President Greg Fenves thanked police for making a quick arrest "in this horrific crime." He said the arrest was a "tremendous sense of relief" to students, faculty and the entire UT community.
According to police, Haruka was last seen leaving the F. Loren Winship Drama Building on Sunday, April 3 between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. Haruka's roommates reported her missing on Monday, April 4 after Haruka did not show up for her morning classes.
According to the affidavit, Haruka was last seen wearing a long sleeve black mock turtleneck shirt, black stretch pants, and brown Doc Martin shoes. Her roommates also stated that she left their dorm room carrying a blue duffle bag. Inside the duffle bag was her Macbook computer, iPhone 6, and extra jacket and study materials for school.
On Tuesday, April 5 the remains of a young female with obvious trauma to her body was discovered by UTPD Police. The body was later identified as Haruka Weiser.
As investigators continued the investigation, UTPD detectives began to look at surveillance video along the route that Haruka usually took. While reviewing the footage, a suspicious black male was observed riding up on a red or pink women's bicycle attempting to open the doors of a van that was parked in the bay area.
The suspect was dressed in a black jacket, orange shirt, grey pants, red or orange athletic shoes and a large backpack. The suspect appeared to be around 6 ft tall, athletic build, and wore glasses. He has now been identified as Meechaiel Criner
According to the affidavit, Criner initially arrived at 9:20 p.m. Criner continued to look around the area and then got back on the bike to leave the location. The video then showed Criner returning to the van at approximately 9:38 p.m. As Criner returned to the location on his bike, the figure of a female dressed in all black and looking at her cell phone can be seen walking toward the Alumni Center. As the female passed Criner and continued toward the bridge, Criner watched her, put the kickstand down on the bike, and reached into the back of his pants and pulled out what appeared to be a shiny rigid object.
Criner then followed the female across the bridge and onto the sidewalk that extends behind the Alumni Center and runs along the west bank of Waller Creek.
Criner is not seen again until 11:47 p.m. According to police, the suspect is seen walking along side the same bike with slight limp. The suspect was also now seen carrying another bag that was not seen before, it appears to be a small duffle bag.
Meechaiel Criner is from Texarkana and does not appear to have any prior criminal charges. According to Child Protective Services, he was in their care at the time of his arrest. Meechaiel Criner was reported missing / runaway to Killeen Police on March 24th.