NEW YORK– Social media posts were used to identify a U.S. Marine accused of shooting and killing a Texas college student as she drove her friends home from a party on New Year’s Day, according to police.
Eric Johnson was taken into custody Tuesday by the U.S. Marshal Service in Yuma, Arizona, at a Marine Corps Air Station where he serves in a squadron that conducts weapons and tactics aviation training. In a warrant affidavit filed Monday, a detective in Denton, Texas, said police used Twitter to tie Johnson to the death of Sara Mutschlechner.
Witnesses told police that Mutshlechner, a 20-year-old University of North Texas student, was the designated driver for a group of friends, a girl and two boys, returning from party at about 2 a.m. on January 1.
When they stopped at a red light in Denton, Texas, an SUV pulled alongside, and the witnesses allegedly told police that men in the vehicle made “lewd” comments toward Mutshlechner and the other girl in her car. One of the boys in Mutshlechner’s car told police that he said he didn’t appreciate the comments, and that the driver of the other vehicle allegedly pulled out a gun and said, “I’ll shoot your ass.”
The light turned green and both cars began to drive. Police say two shots were fired, one of which hit Mutshlechner. Surveillance video shows her car swerve and strike another car before hitting a telephone pole, as the SUV drives away.
Mutshlechner died at a nearby hospital.
Witnesses from her car told police they recognized two people in the back of the SUV from the party they had attended. In particular, they noted a boy who appeared to be about 16, who had braces.
Using Twitter, police found a boy who met that description and had posted previously that he was at the party. They say he was affiliated with a rap group, the Daytona Boyz, who performed at the party.
Police say they identified other social media profiles whose owners appeared to be at the same party. One appeared to show a man with the Daytona Boyz teenager, who police say was later identified by the witnesses as the shooter.
On Twitter, that man posted a photo of the Arizona license plate of a BMW he owns. The car belongs to Johnson, police say, who records show also owns a grey Honda Pilot, which investigators believe is the one driven the night Mutshlechner was killed.
Johnson was charged with murder. He remains in custody in Arizona.