Police at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the country’s biggest schools, urged students to be on guard Thursday after identifying the body of a freshman ballerina who was murdered on campus.
University president Gregory L. Fenves identified the victim as Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old dance student from Portland.
“The unthinkable brutality against Haruka is an attack on our entire family,” Fenves said in a statement. “Law enforcement is fully engaged to do everything to bring the perpetrator who committed this crime to justice.”
The 18-year-old’s body was discovered Tuesday in a creek between the drama building and her dorm. Police said Weiser was communicating with one of her friends after heading home from the drama building at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Her roommate reported her missing at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Weiser’s classmates said a trail near the creek and the school’s football stadium was a route she would normally take, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“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 said.
Investigators said they are searching for a person of interest seen on video near the crime scene Sunday night. A video played by police at a news conference shows an unidentified man walking a woman’s bicycle north of Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium at about 11 p.m. A $15,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.
News of Weiser’s murder coincided with a social media blitz by university police urging students to be on guard.
School officials said Weiser was trained in ballet but excelled in all of her performance endeavors. She was also involved in Dance Action, a student-run organization for dancers, and performed in the fall Dance Action concert.
“Austin police are leading the homicide investigation into this horrifying and incomprehensible crime and working with UTPD and other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend a suspect quickly,” Fenves said in his statement to students.
Police said Weiser was assaulted, but offered no other details.
Weiser’s family members, in a statement read by the university president, said “the pain of our sudden and tragic loss is unfathomable.” The dance major also planned to study medicine and was looking forward to visiting relatives in Japan this summer, they said.
“Although Haruka loved to perform onstage, she never sought the spotlight in her daily life,” Fenves said on behalf of the family. “Perhaps the last thing she would want it to be the poster child for any cause. And yet, as we struggle to understand why she was killed, if her death can somehow make it safer for a young woman to walk home, if it will prevent another assault or murder, then at least we could find some meaning behind an otherwise senseless and tragic death.”
UT students created an online fund to help Weiser’s family with expenses.
Despite notable mass shootings in recent years, homicides are unusual events on college campuses. According to the most recent data from the Department of Education, there was an average of 16 on-campus murders per year at the nation’s 4,100 colleges and universities in 2012, 2013 and 2014. UT Austin reported no murders during those years.
S. Daniel Carter, a longtime college security consultant, estimates the national average number of homicides on college campuses to be about 20 per year over the past three decades. Federal statistics don’t reflect the manner of death or motive in college homicides, but Carter said cases like Weiser’s are extraordinary.
“This type of homicide is relatively rare, even rarer than homicides overall, many of which are related to other types of conflicts — drug deals gone bad, robberies, etc.,” Carter told Yahoo News. “I know it’s very stereotypical, but it’s an important thing in the narrative for people to understand that this type of murder is uncommon.”
Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).