The University of Texas held a memorial service Monday night for freshman Haruka Weiser - on the anniversary of her death. It's a tragegy that shook the entire community. Dozens of people gathered on campus in her honor.
Those who came out are trying to keep Haruka Weiser's memory alive. In doing so, they hope to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. The memorial started at 8:00 pm with opening remarks from UT President Greg Fenves. Then the student body vice president talked about the Walk With Me campaign, making sure everyone on campus feels safe. The last speaker was Weiser's old roommate. She read a letter written by the family. A candle lighting followed, showing that Weiser will always shine within us. The rolling of the tower bells ended the service. It rang 18 times, which was the age of Weiser when she died.
"Each of us may not have known Haruka personally but really, we did know her. She represented the very best of this university - with her talent, focus, her determination, her intelligence, her open-mindedness. She embodied our values. So if you know the University of Texas, you knew Haruka Weiser," says President Greg Fenves, University of Texas.
A year later, we've learned more about what happened that tragic night. It has also shined a light on security vulnerabilities at UT.
But, many changes have been made.
Monday marks one year since the death of UT student Haruka Weiser. She was a performance arts major and a dancer. She was well-known and loved by many.
"It's unfortunate that it took something like this, losing such a wonderful and beautiful member of our community, to encourage us to give a lot more thought to safety. That's exactly what we've done and hopefully, that's what we'll continue doing," says Kevin Helgren, UT student body president.
On the night of April 3, 2016, Weiser was leaving dance practice and walking back to her dorm. Police say that's when she was attacked and assaulted. A couple days later her body was found in Waller Creek, near the alumni center. Surveillance video helped lead authorities to the suspect. 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner has been indicted on a capital murder charge.
"I was a freshman, just like she was last year, whenever it happened. I would walk home late at night from the library and things like that, so it really could have been any one of us," says Tyeria Evans, sophomore.
In August, DPS completed a comprehensive security assessment of campus. Since then, the university has begun implementing safety improvements as part of a long-term strategy.
-Upgrades to campus lighting systems, pathways and security cameras.
-Increased availability of nighttime transportation and emergency call boxes.
-Improved collaboration between university and local police.
"We're working closely with the City of Austin to address issues in the West Campus and Guadalupe area," says Helgren.
"I see the UTPD patrolling all the time. The police help-poles are around. They wave to us, make me feel safe and that they're really looking out for us on campus," says Evans.
The university also plans to work with local officials to promote safety in areas near campus where transients may congregate, and ensure that the problem does not simply shit off campus. The Sure Walk program has also expanded. It's providing more volunteer companionship to students on their walk home from campus. Over the past year, it has gained two golf carts, two trucks and multiple paid student employees. Then there's the Be Safe campaign, which encourages Longhorns to take care of one another.
"I certainly think that's what we've done this past year," says Helgren.
That mirrors what Weiser's family wants. In a letter sent to the university, they encourage everyone to do small random acts of kindness.
They hope to show that we can make this world a better place.