Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

APD and UTPD officers both received calls from someone who said she witnessed a woman being forced into a black pickup truck Tuesday morning, and, though UTPD officers are investigating, no missing person has been identified thus far.

According to Veneza Bremner, APD public information officer, APD officers received a call between 1 and 2 a.m. Tuesday night from a woman who said she had viewed a suspicious incident at the intersection of 25th and San Antonio streets. APD officers went to the scene but did not find evidence that a crime had occurred.

“Officers responded to the call, but they weren’t able to locate a car or anything in the area,” APD commander David Mahoney said. “If it’s not there, there’s really nothing to go on. They weren’t able to find anything to follow up with.”

Roughly eight hours later, the same woman, who asked police to protect her anonymity, called UTPD and elaborated on the incident she claimed to have witnessed. According to UTPD spokeswoman Cynthia Posey, the caller said she thought she saw a woman being forced into the pickup truck by two men around 1 a.m. Posey said the caller was unable to elaborate on the woman’s appearance.

Lt. Charles Bonnet, who supervises UTPD’s criminal investigation unit, said the new details the woman provided were enough to convince UTPD to contact APD and open a full investigation.

“All I can tell you is that a student was concerned enough to call UTPD, and we owe it to our students to fully investigate the matter — just to make sure there’s nothing going on,” Bonnet said. “We have open lines of communication with APD, and the information they had last night was less than what we got today from the caller.”

Bonnet said the case still offered many unanswered questions, and the legitimacy of the reports has yet to be determined.

“There’s no proof that a crime occurred, but there is a suspicious act that was reported,” Bonnet said. “We don’t know what this was. It could have been a criminal violation, or it could have been something as simple as students pulling a prank. There’s just no telling.”

According to Bonnet, UTPD’s investigation has included checking for surveillance camera footage at the intersection, though he declined to say whether these attempts were successful.

“We’re going through other investigatory steps, trying to see if there’s video in the area,” Bonnet said. “The next best thing beyond that is to try and get any witnesses. Hopefully, someone saw what was going on or was actually involved themselves — and can tell us, ‘hey, that was me, it was no big deal.’”

There is a University Federal Credit Union ATM near the intersection. A representative from the Credit Union said most of the company’s ATM do have cameras, but said she could not confirm this particular ATM had footage.

Posey said UTPD emailed subscribers to its CampusWatch email list in order to gather more information about the incident.

“The reason we put it out there was so we could get more information,” Posey said. “We’ve done everything within our power to investigate this; we’ve been working on it all day.”

Bonnet said he did not want to hypothesize on whether the event was related to the power outages that affected large areas of West Campus for roughly half an hour, which began a few minutes after midnight Tuesday morning. 

“I couldn’t speculate about that,” Bonnet said. “The information we have is so minimal right now that it’s hard for us to say what exactly this did have to deal with.”

If you have information about this incident, please contact UTPD at 512-471-4441 and ask to speak to the Criminal Investigations Unit.

Additional reporting by Julia Brouillette

Austin police are now considering a man whose body was found in North Campus on Jan. 12 as a suspect in the murder of Esmeralda Barrera and two other New Year’s Day assaults.

DNA reports on Wednesday confirmed a connection between 25-year-old James Loren Brown, who died by suicide in his apartment on the 3000 block of Guadalupe, and the man who assaulted a woman in her home in the 300 block of E. 31st Street on Jan. 1 at about 5 a.m. They are investigating his possible connection to Barrera’s murder.

Additionally, Brown’s DNA profile causes him to be a suspect in four assaults that occurred last July and one assault that occurred last September, all in South Austin.

APD Commander Julie O’Brien said Brown would have attacked these women from behind while they were walking. She said this formula of attack was very similar to the one experienced by the woman assaulted outside of Barrera’s home on the 3100 block of King Street about 30 minutes before Barrera was killed.

“The mode of operation in these four assaults was very similar to the mode of operation of the man who assaulted the woman walking on King Street [on Jan 1],” said O’Brien. “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we are considering [Brown] a suspect in Barrera’s murder and in the earlier assault with injury on New Year’s Day.”

Homicide detectives responded to a deceased person call made by Brown’s roommate when he returned from winter break on Jan. 12, said O’Brien. Detectives could find no apparent reason for Brown’s suicide and noticed that photos of him in the apartment resembled the composite sketch based on the description provided by the first woman walking on King Street.

“It is important to note that while APD did not find [Brown] until the 12th, he had been deceased for at lease a week when we found him,” O’Brien said. “We are in the process of interviewing people who knew or were connected with him and are trying to connect him to any other cases that we can.”

O’Brien said APD detectives are asking anyone who had contact with Brown on New Year’s Eve or during the early part of January to contact the APD Homicide Tip Line at 512-477-3588. She also asked anyone who knew Brown to come forward, especially anyone who may have bought or received property from him, as a “significant electronic device” was missing from his apartment. O’Brien said Brown worked at a restaurant on Lady Bird Lake and, prior to moving to the apartment, Brown had been discharged from the military.

O’Brien said she and other APD officials, including Police Chief Art Acevedo, were grateful to the Austin community for their help in the case.

“So many friends of Esme and concerned citizens actively distributed that photo,” said O’Brien. “He probably would not have been able to leave his home without seeing his face.”

Natasha Ray, business and government sophomore and North Campus resident, said she can sleep a little easier at night now that police believe they have found the prime murder suspect.

“Ever since I heard so many stories about girls getting hurt I made sure I was with somebody at all times,” Ray said. “I have roommates and we always made sure we double-locked our doors, but we were definitely a little frightened.”

Brigid Abdenour, owner of Tom’s Tabooley restaurant, said Barrera was a regular customer, and the restaurant staff is relieved that police may have found her killer. “I’m sorry that it had to go the way it did and that she was a victim,” Abdenour said.

Abdenour said the Thursday afternoon self-defense fundraiser held at Tom’s Tabooley to raise money for Barrera’s family was a success, and the restaurant will continue to host the class once a month.

“Just because this guy’s gone doesn’t mean we don’t have to be vigilant and protect ourselves, especially all the young women on campus,” said Abdenour. “I feel like [the lass] really helped honor Esme. There’s so much strength in knowing that you can stand tall.”

−Additional reporting by Jillian Bliss