Eliza Fletcher: Memphis Teacher's Funeral Is Held in the Same Church She Got Married 8 Years Ago
Friends, family, and a crowd of mourners came together on September 10, 2022, in memory of the 34-year-old Memphis kindergarten teacher who never returned after leaving home for her usual morning run.
The death of a loved one is something no one is ready for, but finding out that they were murdered after abduction is a terrifying feeling. It takes a toll on people's mental health as they struggle to accept the heartbreaking truth.
The woman in today's story went for her usual morning run, unaware it would be her last one. Something unexpected happened to her that shocked her friends, family, and the people of her community.
On Saturday morning, mother-of-two Eliza Fletcher's friends, family, and locals gathered at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, for her funeral. It was the same place where she first met her husband, Richard James Fletcher, and married him in 2014.
Photos of Eliza's family taken outside the funeral home have been circulating online. Her mother, Lucy, wore a floral dress and hugged friends and family who offered their condolences. Richard and his older son also stood beside Lucy.
More than 300 people attended Eliza's funeral services after following up on updates about her case. Her family arrived at the funeral house at 9:45 a.m. before the choir opened the services with Eliza's favorite song, "This Little Light of Mine."
A Wonderful Woman
Eliza was a hardworking teacher who was very passionate about her profession. She had sung this song for her students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior Pastor George Robertson told the attendees:
"It is right for us to grieve, but let us grieve with hope. Let's carry on the legacy of our dear sister."
Robertson called Eliza "a woman of faith" and said she was a "joy"― the translation of her name in Hebrew. He shared that Eliza, who had an interest in sports, designed a pair of Nike tennis shoes and felt very happy about it.
In remembering Eliza, her family wrote a heartfelt obituary. They said Eliza loved her family and was a great mother to her children. She encouraged her family to participate in outdoor sports like biking, boating, hiking, and running.
During their investigation, the authorities found CCTV footage that revealed what happened to Eliza.
"Liza was a light to all who knew her. Her contagious smile and laughter could brighten any room," Eliza's family said. They remembered her as an innocent person who always saw the best in others and spread love.
A Devoted Teacher
Eliza's family also talked about the impact she had made. They said people came out in huge numbers at vigils, prayer groups, and the memorial runs hosted in her honor. Everyone remembered the kindergarten teacher as a kind woman.
She worked at Memphis's Promise Academy and later joined St. Mary's Episcopal School. The management at St. Mary's wrote a Facebook post thanking those who supported Eliza's family after she went missing. They said:
"'Light and life' are at the heart of the St. Mary's community, and so many people have borne light to us during the dark days of this past week."
The Morning Run
During her college days at the University of Memphis, Eliza enjoyed playing soccer. After graduating, she didn't part ways with the sporty lifestyle. Instead, she started every day by running a marathon and encouraged her children to engage in sports.
Like every morning, Eliza left home at 4 a.m. on September 2 for her run but never returned home. Richard filed a missing complaint at 7 a.m. after he realized his wife wasn't at home. Soon, the authorities started looking for her.
During their investigation, the authorities found CCTV footage that revealed what happened to Eliza. A man driving a black SUV had abducted her from outside the University of Memphis.
The Missing Runner
However, the CCTV footage wasn't enough to find out where Eliza was. The man in the black SUV sped off with her while the investigators searched for clues to find the missing runner.
The authorities circulated Eliza's photos and offered $50,000 to the person who would find her. They shared that she was last seen wearing a pair of blue shorts and a pink top, unaware they would discover her body three days later.
After going through cell phone records and other evidence, the police arrested 38-year-old Cleotha Abston as the main suspect in Eliza's kidnapping. They found his Champion sandals near the crime scene.
On September 5, authorities found Eliza near an empty house on Memphis's Victor Street. She was lying unresponsive on the steps of the home, and they also found tire marks on the driveway.
The next day, the police filed murder and kidnapping charges against Abston after identifying Eliza's body. Abston had also kidnapped and sexually assaulted another woman in September 2021.
On September 8, 2022, Abston appeared in court, where he was refused bail and was scheduled for another hearing on September 19. During the investigation, police discovered that Abston had previously served 20 years in prison for kidnapping a man.
The Unfinished Marathon
On September 9, 2022, hundreds of people gathered to complete the marathon that Eliza had left unfinished. They started running at 4:20 a.m. to honor Eliza, who was abducted around the same time. Event organizer Danielle Heineman said:
"We're just here today to run in honor of Liza, and also to show that women in this city have a right to run at 4 o' clock in the morning or 10 at night or any time of the day."
In her memory, Eliza's supporters wore bright-colored clothes to walk, jog, and run. They believed women weren't obliged to cover their bodies entirely and had the right to go out whenever they wanted.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Eliza Fletcher's family, friends, and the people mourning her death. We stand with her loved ones in this difficult time.
Click here to read another story about a Michigan mother-of-two who was killed in front of her son while trying to help a bicyclist hit by a car.
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