As a shocked University of Texas at Austin community comes together to make sense of a young female student's killing, officials are urging caution while authorities work to identify and catch the suspect.
“I’m asking you not to walk distracted,” said Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, at a news conference on Thursday that announced an increase in patrolling officers and late-night shuttles, among other things.
Haruka Weiser, an 18-year old dance and theater major, was last seen leaving a building on campus around 9:30 p.m. local time on Sunday. About 36 hours later, her lifeless body was found near Waller Creek.
Jaelynn Blount, a freshman involved in dance and theater who took a class with Weiser in their first semester, told NBC affiliate KPRC that many students hang out at that creek, as it's close to the dance and theater building.
"I was actually there on Sunday and I was honestly alone, so it's kind of scary to think that could have been me or any one of us," Blount told KPRC.
"We cried all day yesterday," she added.
The sinister discovery shook the campus population of more than 50,000 students, said Amy Zhang, who is a senior and the managing editor of the student paper The Daily Texan.
“This is a very tragic situation and something like this doesn’t really happen on campus,” she added.
Zhang said she usually feels safe on campus at all hours, but since Weiser’s death she’s noticed more women walking in groups or in pairs at night.
“I’m definitely concerned for my staff members,” Zhang said, adding that she drove a few colleagues home after they put the paper to bed at midnight.
Police have released surveillance video of a man they say is a suspect.
Meanwhile, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves has ordered an additional 50 police officers to patrol the campus until further notice.
Student Hannah Gilbreath said she has noticed the heavier police presence.
“I like that there’s more eyes watching us, I think. Especially in this kind of time, especially since they haven’t identified any suspects yet,” she said. “It feels better that there’s more people watching out for us.”
Gilbreath said she’s been using the buddy system this week more than usual, especially when leaving campus at night.
Another student, Tyler Engalla, said he’s only ever worried about bike thieves on campus – until now.
“I was just shocked that it would happen, especially, like, this close to campus,” he said. “I didn't think it would happen, like, on the campus itself.”
Along with the heavier police presence, the university also provides a student escort service to walk people to their cars or homes, as well as a late-night shuttle service and counselling.
Hundreds of students gathered Thursday evening on the East Mall to honor Weiser's memory.
Zhang said she thinks people are shocked more than scared, as violent incidents on the UT campus are usually isolated.
"With the nature of the ongoing investigation, a lot of people were searching for answers," she said. "Overall, I think the student body is sad about it."