Thousands of women across America gathered to complete the run Eliza Fletcher began, as the murdered jogger’s family prepares to lay her to rest in the same church where she met and married her husband.
Multiple runs took place in honor of the 34-year-old mother of two on Friday morning – marking the week-long anniversary of her brutal kidnapping and murder.
Ms. Fletcher, a marathon runner and kindergarten teacher, was walking her regular morning route near the University of Memphis campus around 4:20 a.m. last Friday morning (Sept. 2) when she was attacked and dragged into a vehicle by a man.
Her body was found three days later behind an abandoned building in south Memphis. Investigators have described her murder as a “isolated attack by a stranger” — something that has once again spotlighted the dangers faced by female joggers, drawing parallels to the murders of other women in similar circumstances.
Before dawn on Friday, groups of women took part in organized runs in Tennessee cities, including Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga, as well as several other cities and towns across the country, in support of Ms. Fletcher and to draw attention to the problem joggers face. are confronted.
Many wore pink tops and purple shorts in memory of the fallen runner – matching the sportswear she was wearing when she was attacked – as they jogged in solidarity in the early morning darkness.
In Memphis, members of Mrs. Fletcher’s own community gathered to complete the run she could never finish.
The event, dubbed “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run,” took the runners along the 8.2-mile set route from the mother of two down Central Avenue and back to Belvedere, where she lived with her husband and two sons.
It started at 4.20am on Friday morning, the very same time that surveillance footage captured Ms Fletcher being forcibly snatched by her attacker.
Organizer Danielle Heineman said: The independent on Wednesday that she hosted the event in protest that women should be able to run anytime and wear whatever clothes they want without fearing their lives could be in danger.
“We want to stand up and say it’s okay for women to run at 4 a.m. and it’s okay for women to run in the kind of clothes they’re comfortable in,” she said. “We shouldn’t be shunned from running on a treadmill or running with a man. I also wanted to finish what Liza started, which was to finish her run.”
The organizer said she initially planned to run 15 to 20 women in the local community, but interest in the idea quickly grew.
About 2,500 people attended the event and another 3,400 were interested, according to the event’s Facebook group.
Several local running groups provided water stops, local churches volunteered at the event and provided parking, and there was a strong presence of local law enforcement officers.
“Many thanks to City of Memphis, Memphis Police Department est.1827, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Christian Brothers University, Breakaway Running, Fleet Feet Memphis, Diversifit, The University of Memphis, Start2Finish, and a special thank you to Charlie Hayden,” Ms Heineman wrote on the Facebook group after the run.
“Our city came together this morning at a time when we really needed it. The Memphis Police Department has had a busy, difficult week and are still on hand to keep us safe this morning. If you see an officer, say thank you, buy him lunch or shake his hand.”
The event precedes Ms. Fletcher’s funeral, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday morning at her local Second Presbyterian Church.
The mother of two first met her husband Richard James Fletcher III at church and the couple married there on March 8, 2014, according to her obituary.
Together they “welcomed their two rambunctious, merry boys Richard James Fletcher IV and Harry Wellford Fletcher”.
“Above all, Liza’s most cherished role was that of wife and mother,” reads the obituary, which describes how the family “enjoyed outdoor adventures together such as boating, water sports, hiking, running and cycling.”
“She was deeply admired by her family and friends for her passionate devotion to motherhood,” it reads.
On Wednesday, Cleotha Abston Henderson appeared in court on a charge of murder. Police said Champion slides found at the crime scene contained his DNA, while evidence, including blood, was also found in his vehicle.
Surveillance footage captured his vehicle both at the site of the kidnapping and where Mrs Fletcher’s body was later found.
Prior to Ms. Fletcher’s murder, the 38-year-old suspect served 19 years in prison for the kidnapping of a lawyer in 2000. He was released from prison less than two years ago.
Abston Henderson also had a long criminal record for juveniles, including a conviction for raping a man when he was just 14 years old.
As the community recovers from the attack, tragic parallels have been drawn between the kidnapping and death of Mrs. Fletcher and the murders of several other women while jogging near their homes.
Ally Brueger, a 31-year-old nurse, would run 10 miles every day near her home in Michigan. In July 2016, she was shot in the back and killed during one of her usual runs. Her killer was never found.
In July 2018, Mollie Tibbetts, a college student at the University of Iowa, disappeared while jogging near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. Her body was later found buried in a shallow grave in a cornfield, with only her clear running shoes visible. She had been stabbed to death.
In August 2020, 25-year-old nurse Sydney Sutherland was grabbed in eerily similar circumstances while running near her home in Arkansas. Her body was found two days later. A farm worker pleaded guilty to her rape and murder last year.
Several people took to social media this week under the hashtag #ElizaFletcher, calling for an end to women running in fear and “blaming the victim” of those who wondered online why they were in the early hours of the morning was running, reject.