TEXARKANA, TX (KSLA) - The homeless Texarkana, Texas, teen accused of slaying a University of Texas student was burning items similar to hers when authorities first encountered him, an arrest affidavit shows.
Meechaiel Khalil Criner, 17, was booked into the Travis County, Texas, Jail at 2:05 a.m. Friday on a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Haruka Weiser, a first-year dance student at UT Austin, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said. His bond has been set at $1 million.
Weiser's body was found April 5 in a creek near the campus alumni center and football stadium. Her death is the first on UT's campus since 1966, when Charles Whitman shot several people from atop the school's clock tower, killing 16.
The affidavit for Criner's arrest says Weiser used her iPhone to call a friend at 9:30 p.m. April 3 to let her know she was "on the way" after attending a class in the campus drama building at East 23rd Street at San Jacinto Boulevard.
Police released a portion of surveillance video April 7 that shows a man walking on the north side of the football stadium at 11:30 p.m. April 3.
Weiser was reported missing to campus police at 11:02 a.m. April 4 after failing to show up for her classes that morning. Campus police found "the remains of a young female with obvious trauma to her body" behind the alumni center in the 2100 block of San Jacinto Avenue about 9:45 a.m. April 5 while searching along the paths Weiser was known to take from her dormitory to some of her classes.
While reviewing surveillance video along that route, investigators saw a male ride up on a women's bicycle about 9:20 p.m. April 3 and try to open the doors of a van parked in the area. He left then returned to the van 8 minutes later.
At the same time, a female looking at her cellphone could be seen walking toward the alumni center, the affidavit says. The document continues:
"As the figure passed the suspect and continues toward the bridge, the suspect watched her, puts the kickstand down on the bike, reaches into the back of his pants with his left hand and pulled out what appeared to be a shiny rigid object. The suspect 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."
The affidavit goes on to say that the suspect is not seen again until 11:47 p.m.. At that point, he is walking alongside the bike with a slight limp as if his left leg had been injured. He also looked to be carrying a small duffel bag. Weiser's roommate later would tell investigators that Weiser had left their dorm room carrying a blue duffel bag.
After police released part of the surveillance video April 7, an Austin fire captain told police that firefighters responded to a fire call about 8:21 a.m. April 4 in the same area where the suspect last was seen. Inside an abandoned building, firefighters found a young male burning items. He told firefighters he was 17 years old and homeless.
Firefighters called police and took his bicycle to their fire station for safe keeping. The affidavit says the bike matched the one seen in the surveillance video.
Family members were shocked to hear of Criner's arrest. While they declined to comment on camera, Criner's grandmother told KSLA News 12 they hadn't seen or heard from him since he left home in August. She said they are trying to figure out who they need to contact to find out what happened.
A spokesperson for Texarkana Independent School District declined to comment. A December 2014 issue of the Texas High School student newspaper, the Tiger Times, features Criner in a story headlined, "A voice of hope."
In it, Criner recounts enduring bullying in his younger years over his clothing and his "African-like accent," and describes the 6 months he spent in foster care when he was in fifth grade as "a really harsh time in my life."
He claimed he was the victim of physical violence while in foster care, saying "People can be mean and hateful."
Criner said he went on to live with his grandmother, whom he described as a central figure in his life, "because my mother didn't want to be responsible for kids."
The article says the bullying and stint in foster care only reinforced his beliefs and determination to take a different path. "I like to stand up for people," Criner is quoted as saying. "I like to help others."
The article ends by saying Criner's future goals were unclear, "but there is one thing Criner aims to accomplish.
'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'."
Read the full affidavit here: