AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin has identified the homicide victim as 18-year-old Haruka Weiser, a first-year Theatre and Dance student from Portland, Ore. Haruka’s body was discovered in Waller Creek, west of the Alumni Center, on campus Tuesday around 10:30 a.m.
Haruka was last seen Sunday night, April 3, between 9 and 9:30 p.m. by a friend who saw her leaving the Drama building on campus. When she didn’t make it to her dorm that night, a friend reported her missing on Monday around 11:30 a.m. University officials say they get many missing student reports and they have a series of protocols to go through by talking to students, family and friends. They searched her normal route and didn’t see anything suspicious.
While a suspect hasn’t been identified, police Thursday released surveillance footage of a man who they’re calling a suspect in the homicide. The video shows a man on a bicycle (red or pick woman’s bicycle) in the area north of the football stadium at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3, 2016. Police say the video was taken after Haruka was attacked. Police say the suspect is believed to be a black man who is around six feet tall.
“At this time, we do not know the identity of the suspect and we’ll definitely need the support of our community,” said Assistant Chief of Police Troy Gay with the Austin Police Department.
APD is working closely with UT police, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers to “locate and apprehend a suspect quickly,” said UT President Greg Fenves on Thursday. There is a $15,000 Crimestoppers reward for any information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspect(s) involved in Haruka’s death.
The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined Haruka’s cause of death, but authorities are not releasing it due to the ongoing investigation. However, Chief Gay did say Haruka was assaulted.
While the victim was found in the Waller Creek area near the Alumni Center, campus officials say no attacks have been reported in that area prior to Haruka’s death. “But, that’s a pathway through the creek thats dark… we are asking students to tell us about anything suspicious,” said UT Campus and Security Director Bob Harkins.
Last May, in a profile interview with her high school dance company, Dance West in Beaverton, Ore. Haruka said she would be attending UT Austin, double majoring in dance and another undecided major. She attended the Arts & Communications Magnet Academy (ACMA), a public high school in Beaverton, where she began dance training in the sixth grade. Haruka is listed as part of the “wardrobe crew” in the program for the upcoming UT production “Bodies & Souls,” set to open Friday, Apr. 8.
While her family wasn’t present at Thursday afternoon’s press conference, they did issue a statement that was read by Fenves.
“Haruka Juliana Weiser, 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 for all the support and prayers offered to us. Words cannot express the outpouring of love we have received.”
The family goes on to say, “Although Haurka loved to perform on stage she never wanted the spotlight. The last thing she would want is to be the poster child for any cause and yet if her death can somehow make it safer for women to walk home, then at least we could find some meaning behind this senseless and tragic death.”
Safety on the UT campus
Since news of the homicide, UT President Greg Fenves said he added 50 officers from UTPD, APD and DPS to patrol the campus. Students were issued tips to stay safe during the investigation. Officers stress that students should not walk alone at night. A UT Student Government program, SURE Walk, offers escorts for students from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to ensure their safety walking home.
“To our students, you expect to be safe on our campus and as president I am taking measures to achieve this and improve safety at our campus. I’ve instructed the university police to expand and oversee the campus SURE Walk program and this morning I asked DPS Steve McCraw to conduct a comprehensive safety review of our campus. It will include video monitoring [and] outdoor lighting,” Fenves said during Thursday’s briefing.
“The university will provide extra van shuttles for students after their evening rehearsals near the Winship and Fine Arts buildings,” said the UT president in an email sent to students. “We are reviewing other enhanced safety measures on campus.”
UTPD has also increased walking, bike and vehicular patrol on campus. All of the officers are working 12 hour shifts.
Some parents have contacted our newsroom with concerns about not being kept in the loop about killing.
President Fenves said in a press conference, they are working to find a better way to reach all parents.
He said, in the meantime, there is a Facebook group they’ve been communicating through.
The university said this was the first homicide on main campus since Charles Whitman opened fire from the UT Tower’s observation deck on Aug. 1, 1966, killing 13 people. In 1996, in UT’s married student housing, which is not located on the main campus, there was a murder-suicide.