Eliza “Liza” Fletcher routinely ran 8.2 miles in the predawn hours. But her final run ended tragically unfinished.
Fletcher, a 34-year-old wife, mother and teacher, was violently abducted last week in Memphis, Tennessee; her body was found Monday behind a vacant complex.
A week to the day after she vanished during her workout, members of Fletcher’s community gathered Friday morning to symbolically complete her last run. More than 2,100 people signed up to run Fletcher’s route in an event dubbed “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run.” The run was organized on Facebook, and another 3,200 people there responded they’re “interested” in attending.
“I’m so impressed with the turnout. It’s very emotional,” resident Margaret Craddock told CNN affiliate WHBQ at the run. “I’ve known Eliza slightly a long time ago. It’s a real tribute to her and just the fact that women should be able to get out early in the morning or whenever and do this. It’s so good for our city at this time to have everyone pull together.”
On the Facebook page, event organizers said, “We created this run as way to honor Liza and cope with our own feelings. Our goal is to stand up for the women in the Mid South and emphasize that women should be able to safely run any time of day.”
Memphis, already stunned by Fletcher’s abduction and killing, also is reeling from a shooting rampage Wednesday that left four people dead and three wounded. A 38-year-old man with a prior kidnapping conviction has been charged in Fletcher’s death, while a 19-year-old man accused in the shooting spree is set to appear Friday in court, according to jail records.
The Memphis Police Department planned to support the Friday morning event honoring Fletcher with “an increased presence in the area,” it tweeted.
Fletcher, a mom of two, was a junior kindergarten teacher at Memphis’ St. Mary’s Episcopal School, where faculty and staff lit candles this week in her memory.
Fletcher’s funeral is set for Saturday at 10 a.m., according to her obituary.
“Liza was a light to all who knew her. Her contagious smile and laughter could brighten any room. Liza was pure of heart and innocent in ways that made her see the very best in everyone she met,” her obituary, posted Thursday by Canale Funeral Directors, read.
Suspect in Fletcher’s killing makes court appearance
The man accused of abducting and killing Fletcher has been identified as Cleotha Henderson. He faces a charge of first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, plus initial charges of kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
It is unclear what sentence prosecutors would pursue if Henderson is convicted.
“It is premature for us to discuss right now what punishment we’re going to seek,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Wednesday. In Tennessee, a first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life in prison – with or without parole – or the death penalty.
Also unclear is whether Henderson’s kidnapping conviction more than 20 years ago would have an impact in this case. Henderson pleaded guilty to kidnapping an attorney in 2000 and was released in 2020, Mulroy’s office told local news outlet WREG.
Henderson appeared Thursday in a Shelby County court after he filed a motion for a change of attorney because of an alleged conflict of interest. The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, which was appointed this week to Henderson’s case, had represented him in the prior kidnapping case, Judge Louis Montesi Jr. said.
Montesi said Henderson’s prior attorney would not be involved in his current case and ruled there were no “grounds or basis for the public defender to be disqualified as counsel.”
Henderson will remain in the Shelby County Jail without bond for the murder charge against him, the judge said.
Henderson allegedly passed by Fletcher in an SUV while she was jogging September 2 in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis. Henderson got out of the vehicle and chased Fletcher until he forced her into the passenger seat around 4 a.m., authorities say.
Search began when Fletcher didn’t return from run
The search for Fletcher began last Friday after her husband reported she didn’t return home from her routine morning jog, authorities said in an affidavit.
Police later found surveillance video of that area that showed a black GMC Terrain pass her, according to the affidavit. A man is seen in the footage getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running toward her before forcing her into the vehicle’s passenger seat, according to the affidavit. The SUV drove away about four minutes after both people were inside, the affidavit states.
Police also analyzed a pair of sandals that were found at the abduction site, near the victim’s phone. DNA found on the shoes matched Henderson’s DNA, according to the affidavit.
Henderson’s employer told investigators he drove a GMC Terrain and verified his phone number. Cell phone records showed Henderson was near the abduction site at the time of the kidnapping, according to the affidavit.
Members of a US Marshals task force found a GMC Terrain that matched details seen in the surveillance video near Henderson’s home Saturday morning, the affidavit reads. The task force detained Henderson near his home Saturday, the court document said.
Two witnesses – including Henderson’s brother – told police they saw Henderson acting strangely at the brother’s Memphis house after the abduction, according to the affidavit. Both said Henderson cleaned the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner and that he washed his clothes in the sink of the home, the affidavit states.
CNN’s Aya Elamroussi and Holly Yan contributed to this report.