17-year-old homeless runaway accused of murdering UT student would snap ‘real fast’

The grandmother of a 17-year-old homeless ‘runaway’ charged with the brutal murder of UT student Haruka Weiser in Austin, says he had a very short temper and would ‘snap’ if he got mad.

Meechaiel Criner was arrested Thursday night after he was caught trying to destroy some of the 18-year-old’s possessions by setting them alight.

Firefighters recognized him as the suspect seen in security footage riding a bike away from the scene and told police they had taken him to a homeless shelter Monday. This link provided the crucial clue that lead to Criner’s eventual arrest.

Surveillance footage also shows the suspect – believed to be Criner – take out a sharp metal object and follow the victim towards a bridge, near to where Weiser’s body was found.

   Meechaiel Khalili Criner was arrested Thursday night after Haruka Weiser's body was found dead in a creek on UT campus Austin 

Meechaiel Khalili Criner: A 17-year-old homeless ‘runaway’ once described as a promising student who 'had fallen on hard times', now charged with the murder of  an 18-year-old girl. Pictured here in December 2014 as part of an interview with Texas High School student newspaper

And Austin police chief Art Acevedo said Friday: ‘We are certain that the subject we have in custody is the suspect responsible.’

Speaking to KSLA from her home in Texerkana, Criner’s grandmother said: ‘He would get along until you made him mad and then he snapped. His temper…he snapped real fast.’

She explained: ‘He’s real intelligent, but he has a problem. He talks to himself and he walks back and forth like he’s fighting.

He had been prescribed medication to help calm his rage-filled temperament, but he likely wasn’t taking it while living away from home, she said.

While Criner’s aunt said: ‘He’s a very intelligent young man but he has some mental problems.’

Criner had been living with his grandmother in Texerkana since last August and she says she was ‘shocked’ to hear of the news of his arrest as she had been looking for him.

‘I thought you were going to say to tell me that somebody had killed him,’ she said.

And her sister added: ‘Whatever has happened is very shocking. It’s hard for me to believe that he did something like this, if he did it.’

Both said Criner is respectful and intelligent but also that he’s had issues since he was a child.

Weiser (pictured right)  was a first year theater and dance student at the university

Meanwhile, his sister says she will stand by him and is sure that her brother ‘didn’t do it.’

Criner’s older sister – a 23-year-old law student who wished to remain anonymous – toldABC13 that while Criner is mentally ill, he is not ‘crazy enough’ to have committed murder. She has not made contact with him since he has been in custody.

She said: ‘He’s slow on a lot of things. It takes him longer to pick up than the average person, but he’s not slow enough to say I’m going to kill this person and take her purse and carry it with me.

‘No one is that slow. Meechaiel is not that slow. Meechaiel is not that crazy to do that.’

In the interview at her Houston home, she explained how their mother was a drug addict who committed suicide, meaning they bounced between their grandmother’s care and Child Protection Services (CPS).

She said it was not a ‘hidden fact’ that he had mental issues and wants to know why CPS ‘let a 17-year-old mentally-issued child out of their care for so long’.

Texas Child Protective Services told NBC News Friday, that Criner was under their care but had just run away.

The agency says it did not know where he was until after police brought him to the homeless shelter.

Haruka Weiser (pictured) was found dead in a creek on University of Texas at Austin campus Tuesday

Haruka Weiser (pictured) was found dead in a creek on University of Texas at Austin campus Tuesday

Left, Weiser performs in The Portland Ballet's production of John Clifford's The Enchanted Toy Shop, November, 2014   Right,  Weiser performs in The Portland Ballet's production of John Clifford's Tales from Mother Goose, November, 2014

Criner’s sister believes that her brother was an ‘easy police target’ and is planning to stand by him.

She added that while she was ‘greatly, deeply sorry this happened’  she is sure ‘Meechaiel Criner did not do this.’

As police confirmed his arrest Friday, a chilling interview Criner gave to his high school newspaper emerged in which he claimed he wanted people to remember his name.

In the December 2014 interview, Criner said that he was mocked for his African accent and had to leave his alcoholic mother to go and live with his grandmother while he was living in Texarkana, roughly 375 miles away from Austin.

He also claimed he grew up in a broken home and was physically abused.

Asked if he was filled with rage after a ‘lifetime’ of bullying, Criner told the Texas High School newspaper that he felt the opposite and ‘liked to stand up for people’.

And in one haunting passage, Criner said that even though he felt people underestimated him, he wanted to be remembered: ‘What I want to leave behind is my name – I want them to know who Meechaiel Criner is’.

In the interview, Criner revealed how he was entered into foster care in fifth grade and was subjected to institutional violence and said the ‘harsh time’ made him realize people can be ‘mean and hateful’.

Speaking with a thick African accent, he described his time in care as ‘like being in prison’ but despite the trauma, he remained determined he would ‘take a different path’.

Ballerina Weiser – described by a former dance teacher as having a ‘dancer’s soul’ – was last seen leaving the campus drama building Sunday night.

Her body was found Tuesday in a creek near the alumni center and UT’s iconic football stadium, an area bustling with activity day and night.

Weiser, 18, from Portland, Oregon, was a first year theater and dance student at the university and was reported missing on Monday morning by fellow roommates.

An affidavit released by police Friday revealed that Weiser had called friend Sylvia Feghali at 9.30 pm and advised she was on the way home from her class at the F Loren Winship Drama Building located on East 23rd Street and San Jacinto blvd.

Texas PD received a call the following morning from her friend Sylvia to say she hadn’t come home. She had been wearing a long sleeve black mock turtle neck shirt, black stretch pants and brown Doc Martin shoes.

She had a blue duffel bag with a Mac Book computer, Iphone 6 and study materials for school.

Police conducted a cursory search for her in Waller Creek Monday but found nothing.

A young female was then found on Tuesday morning with obvious trauma to her body and her death was ruled as homicide. Police have also said she was assaulted but would not elaborate on what kind of assault. 

Surveillance was then recovered, showing a black male dressed in a black jacket, orange shirt and grey pants. He was around 6 ft tall and of athletic build.

The surveillance shows him arriving on campus at 9.20 pm, where he is seen looking round and then leaves. He then returns to where a van was parked at 9.38 pm.

As he returns to his bike, a female dressed in all black and looking at her cell phone is then seen walking towards the alumni center.

The figure passes the suspect and then continues towards the bridge, the suspect appears to watch her and puts the kickstand of the bike down.

He then reaches into his pants with his left hand and pulls out what appears to be a shiny ridged object.

The suspect then follows the female across the bridge and onto the sidewalk that extends behind the Alumni center and runs along west bank of Waller Creek.

Then, at 11.47 pm the suspect is seen walking along the side of the same bike, but now has some type of injury to his left leg and is carrying a bag.

UT President Fenves said: 'Dance faculty members first met Haruka more than two years ago when she performed at the National High School Dance Festival'
Fenves added: 'Trained in ballet, Haruka (pictured center) excelled in all her performance endeavors. She was also involved in Dance Action, a student-run organization for dancers, and performed in the fall Dance Action concert

After the footage was released on Thursday, Austin FD called Austin PD to say they had been called to a fire at 2911 Medical Arts Street, the direction that the suspect was seen walking.

A young black male was found inside an abandoned building on Arts Street, burning items. He was identified as Meechaiel Criner and was taken to LifeWorks homeless center Monday night.

On Thursday, after Austin FD had given police the new information, they returned to the scene of the fire to find ashes of a small Doc Martin shoe and a notebook that had coursework, inside the burnt out bin.

The LifeWorks room where Criner had stayed Monday night was also searched and a Macbook with a sticker on it that mentioned the city of Portland was seized. Family of Haruka Weiser previously told detectives that a Portland sticker was on her Macbook.

Austin police chief Art Acevedo (pictured at a press conference Friday) confirmed that murder charges will be filed against Criner this afternoon

Speaking at a press conference Friday, University President Greg Fenves said the arrest ‘brings a tremendous sense of relief to our students, our faculty, our staff and the entire University of Texas community.’

The university held a vigil in Weiser’s honor Thursday night and Fenves said he met her parents.

‘We will honor Haruka’s life and what she stood for,’ Fenves said. ‘We will take this as an occasion to do as Haruka’s parents asked us to do, learn from this and make this a better community and a safer community for everyone.’

He said Friday that increased police patrols on campus, which have included Texas state troopers in cars, on bikes and on horseback, would continue. The Department of Public Safety also conducted a security review on campus, including checking video monitoring, lighting and building security systems

Fenves said the arrest ‘brings a tremendous sense of relief to our students, our faculty, our staff and the entire University of Texas community.

Her family also released a statement at the presser Thursday, which was read out by UT President Gregory L. Fenves: ‘Our beloved daughter and sister and friend was taken from us too soon.’

The statement said how Weiser had been looking forward to visiting family in Japan that summer and was a passionate and dedicated dancer and student – and was very happy to be at UT.

University of Texas students embrace during a gathering for Haruka on Thursday

They added that while she loved being on stage she never sought the spotlight off it and the last thing she would want is to be a ‘poster child for any cause’.

‘She would not wish us to be stuck in sadness and would want us to keep living life to the fullest and we will try and do that,’ the statement concluded.

In his own statement, Fenves, described how Weiser was ‘liked and admired by her classmates and respected by professors for her intelligence and spirit’.

He continued: ‘The unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family. Law enforcement is fully engaged to do everything to bring the perpetrator who committed this crime to justice.

‘I ask you to join me in expressing our deepest condolences to Haruka’s parents, family, classmates and friends and to help the university honor her life.’

Fenves continued: ‘Dance faculty members first met Haruka more than two years ago when she performed at the National High School Dance Festival.

‘They immediately began recruiting her to come to UT from her home in Portland, Oregon. Our community was made better by her decision to join the College of Fine Arts.

‘Trained in ballet, Haruka excelled in all her performance endeavors. She was also involved in Dance Action, a student-run organization for dancers, and performed in the fall Dance Action concert.’

On Thursday hundreds attended a vigil honoring the first-year dance student.

The university confirmed Wednesday that this was the first homicide on main campus since Charles Whitman opened fire from the UT Tower’s observation deck on August 1, 1966, killing 13 people.

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