Concerns arise in community as perpetrator remains at large

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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.