Killed jogger recalled as ‘bright light’ with ‘lust for life’

Eliza Fletcher leans into the camera, palms on her chin with a beaming smile, and 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 going to let it shine,” she sings in a high, soft voice.

When the song ends, Fletcher leaves her students with a farewell message: “Miss you, girls. You must shine the light in your house, and I’ll see you later!’

For those unfamiliar with Fletcher, who police said was killed after being abducted on Friday during a pre-dawn run, the video offers a glimpse of who she was.

For those who knew and loved her, the nearly 2-minute clip offers a new reminder of the light she routinely brought to others, even with a simple song on the Internet.

The senseless murder of the woman, mother of two and 34-year-old kindergarten teacher has shocked the community in Memphis and has sparked an outpouring of support for her and her family. Police quickly identified a suspect and searched several locations before finding her body. A church held a vigil to pray for her safe return. A large group of runners were making plans to finish her run when she was abducted near the University of Memphis around 4 a.m.

A judge has revoked bail for a man accused of kidnapping and murdering Fletcher on Wednesday. Cleotha Henderson, also known as Cleotha Abston, was arrested Saturday after police discovered his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an affidavit.

The public defender representing Henderson, 38, has not publicly commented on the details of the charges. Henderson previously served 20 years in prison for a kidnapping he committed at the age of 16.

The case will be closely followed by Fletcher’s loved ones, as well as by many who only came to know her after she was murdered.

A graduate of the respected Hutchison School in Memphis, Fletcher earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science from Baylor in 2010, according to a tweet from the university.

Fletcher later landed a teaching job at St. Mary’s, another private school in Memphis, which released a statement calling her “a bright light in our community.”

“Liza epitomized the song we sing every week in the chapel for young children, ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to shine it,'” the statement said.

The statement went on to quote a book read in school, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy: “‘We don’t know about tomorrow,’ said the horse, ‘everything we need to know is that we love each other,’”

On Saturday, as the search for Fletcher intensified and spread to various parts of Memphis, Second Presbyterian Church held a vigil with prayers for her safe return.

The church’s senior pastor, George Robertson, told The Commercial Appeal that Fletcher and her husband Ritchie “are both very active and wonderful leaders in our congregation.”

“She and her husband are both simply inspirations in the sense of their zest for life and love for running and athletics,” Robertson said.

Fletcher’s family has asked for privacy as they grieve, though they have released two statements since she went missing.

“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was such a joy to so many,” said a statement released on Wednesday.

On Friday, a week after Fletcher went missing, a group plans to honor her with an early morning run. The “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run” event is expected to draw hundreds of runners in Memphis, and social media posts indicate that runners in other cities plan to participate.

The run was created “to honor Liza and deal with our own feelings,” according to a Facebook post about the event.

The organizers emphasized that the 13.2 kilometer run is not a fundraiser, but they asked participants to wear bright colors – and carry a bright light.