Fletcher’s attack ‘isolated’, ‘by a stranger’: Memphis DA

Missing

(NewsNation) — A body found in Memphis has been identified as 34-year-old teacher Eliza Fletcher, who vanished during her morning routine jog last week, authorities confirmed Tuesday morning.

NewsNation was able to obtain a statement from her family Tuesday after confirmation of her death:

We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was a such a joy to so many — her family, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation and everyone that knew her.

Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received. We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime.

We hope that everyone, including media representatives, understand the need for the family to grieve in privacy without outside intrusion during this painful time.

Liza FLETCHER’S Family

The Memphis Police Department said Fletcher’s body was found in the rear of a vacant duplex apartment Monday night, only a half-mile walk from where police believe the only suspect in Fletcher’s disappearance, Cleotha Abston, was seen cleaning his clothes and vehicle last week.

Fletcher’s body was found during an exhaustive search lasting more than three days. Authorities said Fletcher was jogging around 4 a.m. on Friday near the University of Memphis when a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle. Fletcher was reported missing when she did not return home.

This booking photo provided by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office shows Cleotha Abston on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. The Memphis Police Department said Sunday, Sept. 4 that Abston has been charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence in the disappearance of Eliza Fletcher, a Tennessee woman who was out jogging last week when she was accosted and forced into an SUV. (Shelby County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

U.S. marshals arrested 38-year-old Abston on Saturday after police found his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit. Police also linked the vehicle they believe Fletcher was forced into to a person living at a residence where Abston was staying.

He was charged with aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in Fletcher’s abduction.

Police said Tuesday that additional charges for Abston have been upgraded to first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.

In addition, police authorities say Abston has been charged with identity theft, theft of property, and credit card fraud.

Police also revealed in an affidavit that the abduction was violent and caught on camera.

Police say surveillance video showed a man violently approaching Fletcher before forcing her into the passenger side of a GMC Terrain with passenger-side tail light damage.

The vehicle sat in a parking lot for four minutes before being driven away. Records also state the GMC Terrain in question was seen 24 minutes before the abduction in surveillance footage.

Investigators tracked Abston’s cellphone number and location history, which placed him in the vicinity of the abduction at approximately the same time it happened.

When authorities arrived at Abston’s last known address Saturday, they found the GMC Terrain in question, with passenger-side tail light damage backed into a parking space. He tried to run, but the U.S. marshals eventually captured him.

“The vehicle was spotted at an apartment complex and we conducted surveillance on him. And then, when he tried to make a move, we went in and made the arrests safely and took him into custody and turned him over to the custody of the Memphis Police Department,” U.S. Marshall Tyreece Miller said in a news conference Tuesday.

“And after that, we also participated in the search efforts to find Miss Fletcher all day Sunday and all day Monday. And, as it’s been stated, it was not the outcome we we’re looking for. We were dedicated and committed to continue those search efforts and assist our partners until she was found,” Miller continued.

Shelby County District Attorney, Steve Mulroy, was also at the news conferenceTuesday. He assured the community that, despite rumors, Eliza’s attack was a singular and random tragedy.

“In contrast to whatever baseless speculation you might have seen, we have no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger,” Mulroy said.

Arie Shamuilian, a criminal defense attorney, joined NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Tuesday to explain how someone like Abston — a repeat offender — was even in a position to commit this crime.

He agrees with Mulroy in that Fletcher’s case is rare and does not exactly speak to the state of the criminal system.

“Jail isn’t a one-shoe-fits-all solution to crime,” Shamuilian said. “Similar to … this case, there may be mental health crisis, there may be drug and addiction that’s part of the crime, so we need to take a look closer to the underlining reason to why people are committing these crimes, and that being the solution and rather than jail,” he said.

Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware businessman and philanthropist. She was also a school teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

NewsNation was also able to obtain a statement released by her school.

We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher. Our hearts are with the Fletcher, Orgill, and Wellford families. This morning our faculty and staff started the day in chapel. We lit candles to remember Liza who was a bright light in our community. Liza embodied the song that we sing every week in Early Childhood chapel, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”⁠ We continue to draw strength from our all-school read, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy. “‘We don’t know about tomorrow,’ said the horse, ‘all we need to know is that we love each other.’”

St. Mary’s Episcopal School Statement on Liza Fletcher

Abston previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. He received a 24-year sentence and spent 22 years behind bars.

This is still an ongoing investigation and an open case.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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