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As 2 Memphis Churches Grieve Murdered Mom and Pastor, Gunman Rampages Through City Killing 4 More

09-08-2022
Image source: Adobe Stock
Image source: Adobe Stock

Memphis has been shaken by several high-profile killings in recent weeks, including the shooting of a pastor during a daylight carjacking in her driveway, the shooting of four people by a suspect during an hours-long rampage, and the slaying of a woman who was abducted while she was on a pre-dawn run.

The woman, 34-year-old Eliza Fletcher, was a wife, the mother of two children, and a kindergarten teacher. She was reportedly kidnapped while jogging on Sept. 2 and murdered. Police searched several locations before they found her body on Monday.

Cleotha Henderson, who also has gone by the name Cleotha Abston, was arrested Saturday after police detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, an arrest affidavit showed.

A church video featuring Fletcher offers a glimpse of who she was. 

Leaning into the camera, with both palms on her chin beneath a beaming smile, Fletcher invites students from St. Mary's Episcopal School to join her in singing, "This Little Light of Mine."

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," she sings in a high, gentle voice.

When the song ends, Fletcher leaves her students with a parting message: "Miss you, girls. You need to let the light shine at your house, and I will see you later!"

Church Leaders reports Fletcher's church family is in mourning. Fletcher was an active member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. A graduate of both Baylor and Belmont universities, she was the granddaughter of a local billionaire businessman and philanthropist.

Second Presbyterian's senior pastor George Robertson described Fletcher and her husband Richard as "both very active and great leaders in our congregation."

Both are "inspirations in the sense of their zest for life and love of running and athletics," Robertson told Church Leaders. "But what's most important at this time is they have a very deep and profound trust in Christ, who they have leaned on throughout their lives and who has made a real significant impact on each of them personally. That is Ritchie's trust right now."

After authorities found and identified Fletcher's body, the church wrote in a tweet: "We're seeking shelter in the Father of mercies & the God of all comfort whose Son is the blessed hope of the resurrection & will at the Great Day heal us & our world."

Memphis Methodist Pastor Murdered by Carjackers in Her Driveway

Meanwhile, another Memphis congregation and family are also mourning. Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, a Memphis pastor and community staple, was murdered last month during a carjacking outside her home in Whitehaven, Tennessee.

As CBN News reported, Eason-Williams, a wife, mother of four, Methodist pastor, and the Metro District superintendent of the United Methodist Church's Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, was remembered for her kindness and community activism.

"Words escape me today," Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church wrote in a blog post one day after the pastor's murder. "We often quip that no one is irreplaceable. I will tell you, however, that I beg to differ with that sentiment. One can be replaced, but the unique giftedness of a person cannot be replicated. Autura was uniquely gifted for mission and ministry."

He praised the deceased faith leader for her compassion and love.

"Autura, we will miss your laugh, your leadership, your love, your faithfulness, and your generous spirit," he wrote. "You modeled for us the words of Micah: 'and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?' Micah 6:8."

Two teenagers and one 20-year-old man were arrested and charged with murder over that tragic incident, though some debate has surrounded how the two 15-year-olds in the case should be treated under the legal system.

A judge is reportedly looking at the evidence, including mental evaluations, school records, and other elements, to determine how best to proceed. The teens will be back in court on September 12.

Memphis Shooting Suspect Killed Four People Before Being Apprehended

Then on Wednesday, Memphis residents were shaken again after a man drove around the city shooting at people, killing four, during an hours-long rampage that forced frightened people to shelter in place.  

Ezekiel Kelly, 19, who was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder in 2020, was taken into custody at around 9 p.m. in the Memphis neighborhood of Whitehaven, police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. Memphis Police Director Cerelyn "CJ" Davis said charges were pending during a news conference early Thursday.

Four people were killed and three others were wounded in seven shootings across Memphis, Davis said. The rampage began at 12:56 a.m. Wednesday and continued to about 8:30 p.m.

There were at least eight crime scenes: the seven shootings and the carjacking of a Dodge Challenger in Southaven, Mississippi, Davis said. Kelly was arrested when he crashed during a high-speed chase after the carjacking in Southaven, which is located south of Memphis.

In February of 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit a dangerous felony and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, court records showed. The circumstances of the case were not immediately known.

Records show he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced in April 2021 to three years. Kelly was released from prison in March, 11 months after he was sentenced, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

"I understand it feels like so much violence and evil to experience in such a short time," Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said on Twitter. "We are SO much more than this."

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