Former student Meechaiel Criner charged with murder

Family speaks out

Story by Jessica Emerson and Raga Justin

 In a small, dimly-lit room of her Texarkana, Texas, home, Mary Wadley takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, clasps her hands together and begins to talk about her grandson.

“I want the public to know that Meechaiel was a good person, a very respectful child,” Wadley said. “He was quiet. He was a sweet person.”

In the early hours of Friday morning, 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner, a former Texas High School student, was arrested in connection with the murder of an 18-year-old University of Texas freshman.

Haruka Weiser’s body was found in a creek on the campus. UT president Greg Fenves called the incident “horrifying and incomprehensible.”

According to the affidavit, Criner was found by the Austin Fire Department in an abandoned building, burning items that investigators believe belonged to Weiser. Because Criner said he was homeless, the Austin police transported him to LifeWorks, where he was later taken into custody after a search warrant produced additional evidence.

“I still don’t believe he did this,” Wadley said. “I believe somebody probably set him up, because of the way he is. He never showed any signs that he would hurt anybody or want to kill anybody. And I’m not just saying that because he’s mine. If he was somebody else’s and I knew that child, I’d say the same thing.”

When Criner was 3 years old, Wadley took him in after she said his biological mother was found to be unfit.

“He was in foster care for six months, and I fought like hell to get him back,” Wadley said. “When he came back he said, ‘Granny, those other folks were real mean,’ that ‘the man would hit me real hard in the chest and knock me down,’ and lock him in a closet for six or seven hours. When he came back, it looked like he didn’t have any good clothes on, he was so dirty.”

Criner was put into foster care after alleged abuse by Wadley.

The incident in question was a punishment for disobedience. Wadley stated that she struck him with a belt, which slipped and resulted in a gash underneath his eye.

“His mother got mad at me, and called the police,” Wadley said.  “[She ] said I deliberately hit him up under his eye. She wanted him back but couldn’t get him back, and I guess she thought that if she told them that, she could get them back.”

While Criner was in school, Wadley said that classmates would tease him, provoking flare-ups.

“He just got upset when people pushed him because he couldn’t talk good,” Wadley said. “Children sometimes tried to call him dumb and stupid. He would get real upset, and I had to tell him, ‘Just ignore them, Meec.’”

According to Wadley, Criner had several outbursts in school, usually after conflicts with classmates.

“[Teachers] told me that when he’d get upset they would tell him to go outside the room and let him calm down and then let him come back in,” Wadley said. “The kids just kept pushing him and telling him what they wanted to do to him. They were pushing him too far.”

Throughout elementary school, Wadley said Criner was socially impaired, as classmates shied away from him because of a severe speech impediment.

Former classmate Daisha Wallace said she remembers Criner as a shy kid.

“He didn’t speak much, unless spoken to,” Wallace said. “When he did speak, most people didn’t understand him. Most of the other kids didn’t associate with him because of his accent and his shyness.”

Wadley eventually sent Criner to live with an uncle because she said he “needed to be around boys and men.” After moving in with his relatives, Criner’s behavior began to worsen.  

“He stayed over there for a little while, and then he started getting rude and disrespectful a little bit,” Wadley said. “I told him he was almost grown, and he couldn’t do that.”

Criner left home in August of 2015, following a disagreement with Wadley, who voiced her fears for his survival on his own.

“I told his sister something bad was going to happen to him up there, that he didn’t need to be in Austin,” Wadley said. “I know he couldn’t handle any big cities, his mind is like a little kid. He looks like an adult, but his mind is like a little kid. That’s why I had to watch him all the time.”

Wadley also described her grandson as “easygoing” and  “easily misled.”

“He didn’t have an anger problem, but if you push someone far enough anger comes up in you,” Wadley said. “That’s why I’m afraid for him, I was afraid that when he finished school and got out there in the world that people would take advantage of him and use him.”

Former classmate April Hawkins said Criner was always courteous to her.

“Every time he saw me he would open the door for me,” Hawkins said. “That’s why this is so shocking–how he was doesn’t fit this.”

Wadley said that Criner was taking Seroquel, a medication used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Former classmate Reagan Lynn also recalled Criner mentioning his use of Seroquel.

“He had an episode in class,” Lynn said. “When he came back, he told me it was because he hadn’t taken his meds the normal time or something, and he was extra tired that day. I was familiar with the medicine, that’s why I remember that it was called Seroquel.”

If Wadley could speak to Criner now she would reassure him, she said.

“I would let him know that I love him and I’m there for him, and I’m going to try to see this through with him.”

For now, Wadley said she plans to fight for Criner.

“Right now, I guarantee you he doesn’t know what to say,” Wadley said. “He will shut completely down and won’t say a word. I believe that somebody did something to that girl, and they put it off on him. I’m going down there … to let them know that he has family that’s going to put up a fight.”


This article was published with the permission of the Texarkana Gazette.