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Austin’s Top Stories of 2012: Remembering Esme Barrera

Tragedy can strike at any time.

Austin’s music community was painfully reminded of that lesson when a mainstay of the local music scene, Esme Barrera, was murdered at her home in the West Campus during the first hours of the New Year.

Nearly a whole year later, the District Attorney's office says sufficient cause exists to arrest her alleged murderer, if he hadn't killed himself soon after Barrera's murder. APD is now declaring the case closed. 

In the early morning of Jan. 1, Barrera was returning to her home on West 31st Street, near Guadalupe Street, from a celebratory evening of live music. Shortly after entering her house, she was killed.

Esme’s death inspired tributes from both friends and music fans that never met her. As KUT News wrote on Jan. 2:

Barrera was active in Austin’s music community. She was a Girls Rock Camp Austin counselor and mentored bands. She was a employee at Waterloo Records, which posted the single word, “Heartbroken” on its Facebook page early this morning.

Barrera also worked with special needs children, and her death inspired an outpouring of eulogies from friends on a blog created in Barrera’s memory. She was also remembered by Austin-based Matador Records chief Gerard Cosloy, riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, and she received a notice in the British music press.

Online and offline, Barrera’s friends mobilized to share information and leads that might help police find her killer.

Homemade wanted posters bearing a composite sketch of Barrera’s suspected assailant, based off of a seemingly-related assault on the same street just minutes prior, began appearing all over Austin. Friends and concerned residents filled a neighborhood meeting to speak with police.

On Facebook and in the local blogosphere, a police lineup-style comparison of the composite sketch with sketches of assault suspects in additional, unsolved cases went viral, before it was removed by its author.

On Jan. 26, police announced they had a suspect in Barrera’s murder, James Loren Brown – but Brown was dead from an apparent suicide.

Brown had killed himself more than two weeks earlier in his apartment just steps away from Barrera’s home. Through DNA testing, police were able to link Brown to the assault on Barrera’s street that presaged her death, as well as four other assaults dating back to the summer of 2011. But they could not link him directly to Barrera’s murder.

While police said Brown remained the prime suspect in Barrera’s death, no DNA evidence has linked him to the killing.

Brown’s suicide and the open-ended nature of the investigation hasn’t provided the closure many would like. But Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo today said they believe Brown was responsible for the murder.

"There's confidence in the District Attorney's office that they would have secured a conviction for Ms. Barrerra" were Brown still alive, Acevedo said. He said an APD detective flew to El Paso yesterday and explained to Esme's parents why they believe Brown was the perpetrator.

"Esme was a very special young woman that was well known throughout our community and loved and respected," says Acevedo. "The way that the crime occurred, and the neighborhood it occurred in, which is a very safe neighborhood: Put all of that together, and there was great public interest, and I think that’s not a bad thing. When people die, they matter, and people should care." 

Update: This article initially stated Barrera was a regular at Waterloo Records. She was actually an employee. The statement has since been clarified.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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