BEAVERTON, Oregon – As the Austin and Portland communities continue to mourn Haruka Weiser’s death, her funeral service on Saturday morning asked the crowd to remember the way she lived — and how one instance of violence has brought forward several acts of kindness.
“Death and evil does not have the last word,” Rev. Dave Gutmann, of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, said.
Haruka Weiser’s funeral began with the same song she danced to for her final senior show. Claude Debussy’s classical, dreamlike piano sounds of “Clair de Lune” filled the Holy Trinity church which has a 900 person capacity, where few seats remained open for the service that brought together Haruka’s family members, former educators and many of her UT and Portland-area friends.
Haruka, 18, enrolled at UT as a dance freshman. After dance department faculty saw her perform at a national dance festival, they recruited her with a dance scholarship. On the night of April 3, she was killed while walking on campus. Seventeen-year-old Meechaiel Criner has been charged in connection to her murder.
Gutmann told mourners that life has several risks; despite the best efforts to protect our loved ones, there are limitations.
“If we are going to live our lives fully and deeply, there’s always risks,” Guttman said.
Haruka was the oldest child of Thomas Weiser and Yasuyo Tsunemine. She is survived by her brother Noboru Weiser, 16, and her sister Naomi Weiser, 14.
Noboru spoke for the family and he asked those grieving to remember all the happy memories they had with Haruka.
“The reality is that we are grieving about a really short time of a person’s life,” Noboru said. “Instead of focusing on her last moments, I want you to remember she enjoyed 18 years of her life, filled with challenges, joy, growth, love, success — and also us.”
Noboru shared memories of a fun childhood with his sisters, which involved a lot of Haruka and Noboru finding ways to make Naomi laugh. He described Haruka as a good friend and a talented dancer with an impressive burping ability.
Sofia Eptaimeros met Haruka in the sixth grade when they started at the Arts & Communications Magnet Academy (ACMA). The two danced together through their senior year. She said Haruka’s burping strength helped as comedic relief.
“She was a tiny human and she could interrupt intense moments of rehearsals,” Eptaimeros said laughing. “She would belch so loudly and we would ask: ‘How could that come out of you?’”
Before going to UT, Haruka attended ACMA in Beaverton where friends and faculty watched her transform into a talented dancer through Dance West, a pre-professional student dance company.
Principal Michael Johnson said Haruka spent seven years at ACMA, where her talents were not restricted to dance. According to Johnson, Haruka embodied academic excellence and artistic ability with other art forms such as ceramics and sculptures that she added meticulous details to in projects.
“In her soul, she was intrigued by arts,” Johnson said. “Haruka excelled not only just as a dancer, but she was also a magnificent visual artist.”
Instructors with impressive career tracks in Broadway, dance companies and as backup dancers for celebrities taught Haruka dance, and watched her metamorphosis into a highly-skilled dancer.
“Her transformation was awesome,” Jason Davis, Haruka’s ballet instructor said. “When I first met her, she was shy and couldn’t remember anything. Then she became one of the most coordinated dancers and led by example.”
But Haruka was also her hardest critic and a perfectionist, according to Eptaimeros.
“Even when she’d be on stage crying, [ Davis] would tell her that she could do it and she would blossom,” Eptaimeros said.
In a 2014 interview with the Beaverton Valley Times, Haruka described herself as someone who challenged herself as a dancer.
“Every time before a show, for me at least, it gets really rough. I’ll be like, ‘I want to quit. I never want to dance again.’ And as soon as the show happens, I’m back in it,” Haruka said in the story.
Julane Stites, director of Dance West, said she last saw Haruka when she visited during winter break.
“She told me she was really happy at UT and her only regret is she didn’t get to work with David Justin Holmes,” Stites said. Holmes helped recruit Haruka to UT.
Next weekend, Dance West will perform work that Haruka helped Stites on as répétiteur, or as an instructor’s assistant.
“She had amazing promise to do whatever she wanted to do,” Stites said. “That could have been dance or pre-med. She would have been one that could handle many things on a high-level.”
Haruka’s mom said the amount of support she and her family has received has given them comfort.
“We have gotten so many wonderful cards and we would love to respond individually — just because they haven’t heard from us, doesn’t mean we don’t see them,” Tsunemine said. “We appreciate all of the cards so much, it gives us comfort and peace.”
She described her daughter as independent and an extremely smart student who loved UT.
At Haruka’s funeral reception, many of her UT and Dance West friends shared their memories of Haruka as faculty members from both cities met for the first time.
“We really are sister cities,” Stites said looking at the crowd.