Esmeralda Barrera

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 

Austin citizens have expressed concerns for their personal safety in the weeks following the New Year’s Day murder of North Campus resident Esmeralda Barrera, but the victim’s friends and family are also making sure the 29-year-old’s memory is not forgotten.

Austin police still do not have a suspect in custody for the murder of Barrera or for the two assaults that occurred in North Campus the same morning.

Barrera was pronounced dead in her home on the 3100 block of King Street after the Austin Police Department investigated a 9-1-1 call received at 2:46 a.m. on Jan. 1.

Alyx Vessey, a friend of Barrera’s, said in an interview with The Daily Texan that Barrera was always concerned about her safety and took necessary precautions.

“Whenever we would drop her off anywhere, she would ask that we wait in the car until she got home safely,” Vessey said.

Vessey said she was inspired by the way the Austin community had come together in response to Barrera’s death. An avid music fan, Barrera served as a counselor with Vessey at Girls Rock Camp, where both coached young musicians.

“Esme was a fast talker, but for all her chattiness, she was a really good listener,” Vessey said. “I think that is part of the reason why she was such a good music fan. Esme embodied the idea that it is as important to be in the crowd as it is to be in the band.”

Vessey spoke about the last time she saw Barrera, when she visited the 2011 Girls Rock Camp showcase.

“I remember her a little teary-eyed as she watched the bands that she and the other counselors had coached play,” Vessey said. “She was always a huge professional resource to me in the way that she invested in the kids. It breaks my heart to see that she didn’t get her [teacher’s] certification.”

Melinda Chow, spokeswoman for Girls Rock Camp, said camp staff members are in the process of planning a memorial service for Barrera, but does not have an exact date set. She said while there would be a memorial service planned by GRC, the camp counselors and administrators chose to postpone it in order to grieve with the Austin community first.

Memorial services have been planned across the nation as well, including one in Los Angeles on Friday, where four bands will play and admission funds will benefit Barrera’s family.

“She embodied everything that Girls Rock Camp was about,” Chow said. “She had real instinct [in working with kids] and was a gifted teacher. Right now we are prioritizing the community and making sure that everyone has what they need.”

Sketches sho a man involved in the July 8 crimes (Fig. 1), a man involved in the Christmas Day acts of indecent exposure (Fig. 2) and a man involved in a string of New Year's Day crimes (Composite sketches courtesy of Austin Police Department).

Representatives of the Austin Police Department said the man responsible for the murder of Esmeralda Barrera on New Year’s Day is still at large, despite an intensive police investigation and more than 250 crime tips from the community.

Austin residents provided tips after police released information about the homicide with the description of two other attacks that occurred Jan. 1 in the North Campus area. One attack occurred before Barrera’s murder and one occurred after, but APD spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said the police department cannot confirm a definite connection between the three attacks, although they are not ruling anything out.

Aguinaga also said APD released information on Jan. 4 to the public about an indecent exposure case that might be related to Barrera’s murder. According to the police report, the incident occurred on Christmas Day in the 300 block of East 31st Street — the same location cited in the police report for the third New Year’s Day attack.

She said police could not confirm that the woman who reported the indecent exposure case on Christmas Day was the same woman who reported an aggravated sexual assault on New Year’s Day, and APD is investigating both events and their relationship.

Despite claims that the man responsible for Barrera’s death was connected to three attacks that occurred in South Austin on July 8, Aguinaga said could neither confirm nor deny any connection.

“At this time we have no indication that [all or any of] these cases are related,” Aguinaga said. “If we had a suspect, we might be able to make statements about the relationships between various cases.”

Aguinaga said citizens have been distributing alongside the drawing connected with the New Year’s Day attacks composites from the July 8 assaults and from the Christmas Day incident. She said she could not officially endorse any other drawings, depictions or photos made by private citizens.

“The police department has released three photos, and we stand by those three photos,” she said.

Anna Sabana, spokeswoman for APD, said the Heritage Neighborhood Association organized an event with members of the APD’s executive team to discuss community safety and the New Year’s Day assaults. The meeting was held Jan. 9 at First English Lutheran Church.

“They invited us there due to some concerns about safety,” Sabana said. “In addition to answering questions from the audience we released some general safety tips.”

Sabana said Commander Julie O’Brien and Police Chief Art Acevedo attended the event and responded to the audience’s questions.

Paula Brown, president of the Heritage Neighborhood Association, said the meeting was presented as a part of the community’s healing process.

“It turned into a huge meeting with over 150 people, including residents and friends of [Barrera],” Brown said.

O’Brien urged residents to secure their doors with dead bolts, make an effort to have good lighting around their property and to use a buddy system when walking in the neighborhood, Brown said.

Police advise caution after a murder and two assaults occurred in the North Campus area early Sunday morning. APD officials are in the process of investigating all three incidents.

The Austin Police Department investigated a 9-1-1 call received at 2:46 AM on New Year’s Day. The call described an injured woman at her home in the 3100 block of King Street. The woman, later identified as Esmeralda Barrera, was pronounced dead after the arrival of the police.

APD does not have a suspect for the murder in custody, but the two assaults in the area that morning which Department members believe might be related to Barrera’s murder, according to a press release issued by the police department.

The first woman, attacked while walking on King Street, was able to provide a description of her attacker which UTPD officials have released online “in hopes of alerting the public and also receiving information from the public.” The suspect was described as a 30 to 40 year old black male with large dark brown eyes. He was described as approximately six feet tall, with a muscular build and was last seen wearing blue jeans and a grey jacket over a dark colored t-shirt.

About half an hour before the murder, a woman walking on the 3100 block of King Street in the neighborhood behind Boomerang's Pies on Guadalupe Street was assaulted. After the murder, a third woman was assaulted in her home in the 300 block of East 31st Street between Speedway and Duval Street.

APD would not release the police report for any of the incidents, give the names of the other two victims, or describe in any more detail the nature of the assaults, as the investigation is still ongoing.

“Residents should always be aware of their surroundings,” Veneza Aguinaga, spokesperson for APD said. “Keep all doors and windows locked and report any suspicious persons, noises, activities by calling 911.”

The UT Police Department also sent out an email to students describing the incidents and releasing information about the suspect’s appearance Monday night.

“The Austin Police Department is the Agency investigating the case so [additional] information [about the incidents] should come through APD,” Aguinaga said. “UTPD is doing an excellent job of keeping students informed about the case from information we release.”

APD would not release the police report for any of the incidents, give the names of the other two victims, or describe in any more detail the nature of the assaults, as the investigation is still ongoing.

The Austin Police Department urged anyone with information about Barrera’s activities earlier that night or about the suspect in her murder to contact the Homicide Tip Line at 477-3588 or Crimestoppers at 472-TIPS.