The University of Texas at Austin held a memorial service for Haruka Weiser on Monday evening, marking a year since the UT freshman was murdered. It was the first on-campus murder at UT in decades, and the aftershock shook the university. A little before eight in the evening on Monday night, a small crowd of students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Main Mall in front of the UT Tower as a Drew Orland played John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the Tower’s carillonneur. As the song ended, University President Greg Fenves stepped up to a podium at the top of the stairs leading up to the Tower to make the opening remarks. He spoke about the tragedy of Weiser’s death, her dedication to dancing, and her growing love for being a Longhorn.
“If you know the University of Texas, you knew Haruka Weiser,” Fenves said, before telling an anecdote about how Weiser’s father was surprised to learn that how much Weiser had grown to love Longhorn football. “Her dad was amazed. He told us that she loved UT and she loved living in Austin. Well, I can say without hesitation that the honor was ours. She will always be part of our thoughts to inspire us.”
The solemn candle vigil recalled a dark night for the campus. On April 3, 2016, Weiser called a friend and told them she was on her way home after practicing for an upcoming dance performance. When the eighteen-year-old theater and dance student failed to return home that night or show up to her classes the next day, a missing person’s report was filed for her. Two days later, her body was discovered on campus by Waller Creek, near the university’s alumni center. Meechaiel Criner, a homeless teenager, was arrested on April 8 at LifeWorks, a youth advocacy center, and charged with Weiser’s muder. Criner currently awaits trial.
Weiser’s death prompted safety concerns among students and staff alike. In the past year, the university has responded, beginning with a security assessment from the Department of Public Safety. On August 18, 2016, Associate Vice President of UT Campus and Safety Bob Harkins provided an update on improvements the university was making on campus. Measures vary from fixing broken streetlights and identifying areas where better lighting is needed, expanding the university’s SURE Walk program—which offers escorts for students walking the campus at night—through the use of golf carts, and providing low-cost night permits for people to be able to park closer to campus in the evening. Some other measures, such as how to work with the transient population concentrated near the west side of campus, require more complicated approaches that require coordination with the city of Austin, the Austin Police Department, and the UT Police Department.
Speakers touched on some of these changes at the memorial, but the main focus was the social campaign encouraging awareness about safety, Be Safe, that the university has taken up after Weiser’s death. Micky Wolf, the UT student government vice president, explained how Weiser’s family contributed to the university’s safety campaign by adding a new component.
“In conversations with student government, Haruka’s family helped to launch the Walk With Me campaign,” Wolf said. “Their goal was to respond in a meaningful way to create a focus on social responsibility and cohesiveness among students, faculty, and staff. Their hope was to create an environment in which students care for each other and for the world around them.”
The Walk With Me campaign places an emphasis on safety in numbers, spurred from the belief of Weiser’s father that walking with a companion might have been a better deterrent to Weiser’s attack than pepper spray or self defense classes.
“In keeping with a cultural tradition, Haruka’s family gave her new name after her death: Bright Faith,” Wolf said. “The flame in the Be Safe logo is a symbolic representation of Haruka’s new name. It is meant to remind us that her eternal light will guide us for years to come.”
Sylvia Feghali, a sophomore majoring in urban studies, introduced herself as Weiser’s roommate during her time at UT and read a letter from Weiser’s family titled “Haruka Day Anniversary.”
As April is approaching, we have been thinking about how we will be facing the anniversary of the worst day of our life. On April 3, 2016, our beloved daughter Haruka was murdered on campus, on the way back to her dorm after she’d finished preparing for an upcoming dance performance. It was 9:30.
As much as we do not want to remember what happened to her, we do understand how important it is to remember this tragedy so the UT community and beyond can continue to work on campus safety and building a stronger community. At the same time, we want to remember that day in a special way, so everyone will always remember who she was. On that day, Haruka became an angel for everyone. She became a teacher to guide us with her bright faith. Her light lifts our hearts even when we are in the darkest moments of our lives. Her light continues to remind us of the goodness in us all and in all human kind.
Haruka was an innocent victim of a random act of violence. As we were reminded during her funeral service, violence did not have the last word. Rather, we found ourselves completely surrounded by people who deeply cared about us. Kindness, caring, and grace, are the lasting words for us and tribute to Haruka.
As we carry Haruka’s legacy on April 3, we kindly ask you to do small random acts of kindness to anyone around you, such as buying a cup of coffee or lunch, complimenting others, anything you can do. You might feel like walking away from your friends who are suffering because you do not know what to say or what to do. But you do not always need words. You can just walk along with them or sit with them. We can all feel the presence of you who truly care.
Show the world to inspire. Share acts of kindness on your social media by posting a heart as a symbol of love and kindness. Every act counts. Everyone counts. Each of us has a reason to exist on this earth. Such small acts of kindness remind us why we came to this world. To make this world a better place.
Thank you for continuing your support and caring for our family. We look forward to seeing seeds of love continue to sprout throughout the world. Walk With Me. Hook ‘em Horns.
The Weiser Family
After reading the letter, Feghali began the candle lighting ceremony, igniting a handheld candle from another burning next to the podium and walking down the Tower stairs to share the flame. As the crowd moved closer together to spread the flame from candle to candle, Fenves took to the podium one last time to express a commitment to supporting the Weiser family and to ask for a moment silence as the UT Tower bells rang eighteen times—one for every year of Weiser’s life.
In between bell tolls, Feghali cried in a friend’s arms and others in the crowd sniffled and wiped away tears as student government representatives walked around offering Kleenexes. After the eighteenth toll, mourners stood silently in the well lit Main Mall, cupping their hands to protect their flames from the wind, as Moby’s “Walk With Me” played over the speakers.