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Loved ones and hundreds of mourners from the Memphis community gathered on Saturday morning to bid a final farewell to Tennessee teacher and mother Eliza Fletcher, who was honored for “bringing light to this day and the world.”
Over 300 mourners were estimated to have attended funeral services held at the Second Presbyterian Church, in Memphis, Tennessee, where 34-year-old Fletcher first met her husband of eight years, Richard. Attendees waited in lines to enter the building, with mourners arriving steadily over the 90 minutes preceding the ceremony.
Fletcher’s family arrived in two funeral vehicles and a large bus around 9:45 am local time. The ceremony was live-streamed via the church’s YouTube page. Among songs and hymns performed by Second Presbyterian Church’s choir was, “This Little Light of Mine,” which Fletcher was seen in heart-wrenching video singing to her young students during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Senior pastor Dr. George W. Robertson told mourners “everything in this service has something to do directly with Eliza Fletcher’s life.”
“Surely, you recognize the children’s song, ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ she recorded for her kindergartners to encourage them to keep their light shining, even in the tough times of COVID. And you recognize perhaps those who came to her wedding. These were her favorite humans. She was a light. She also was a joy,” Robertson said, according to the live stream. “Eliza’s name is Hebrew…It means joy.”
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He spoke about Fletcher’s love of designing her own Nike tennis shoes and how she “was very proud of those shoes.”
“‘This little light of mine,’ Liza said, ‘I’m gonna let it shine.’ Liza didn’t have the resume of a world changer, as we count world changers,” Robertson went on “But when Jesus is your light – no matter how small, no matter the world’s dismissal of you for not having perhaps what it says you want to have – with Jesus as your light, no matter how small you are, it shines brightly. This little light, born 34 years ago, is bringing light to this day and the world”
Photographs from outside Saturday’s ceremony show mourners, including Fletcher’s mother, father and husband among other family members, consoling each other before the services began.
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Fletcher, 34, was running near the University of Memphis campus around 4:30 am on Sept. 2 when she was abducted and killed, allegedly at the hands of a stranger named Cleotha Henderson. Henderson, who has a violent criminal past, has since been hit with several charges, including first-degree murder, premeditated murder and murder in perpetration of kidnappings, in addition to other counts that include aggravated kidnapping and tampering with/fabricating evidence.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people gathered in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning to finish Fletcher’s run after it was tragically cut short.
“We’re out here today to honor Liza and to finish her run,” event organizer Danielle Heineman told the participants.
“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,” Heineman said . “And we don’t have to completely cover our bodies while we run. There should be no excuses.”
Fletcher was a married mother of two and a descendant of the Orgill fortune. She was a junior kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School and had previously taught at the Promise Academy.
An obituary released in her memory describes her as having been “devoted” to her work and her students.
“As with everything Liza took on, she nurtured and cared for her students with her whole heart,” the obituary states. “A strong believer in the importance of personal growth, she was not afraid to be vulnerable. To the contrary, she embraced it.”
It also describes the young mom as a “born athlete.”
“Liza’s passion for sports extended from childhood teams to collegiate competition to excellence in marathons in adulthood,” according to the obituary. “She found great joy in her morning runs with friends. She channeled her competitive nature into enthusiastic participation in all that she undertook.”
Fletcher was someone who “modeled the Christian life and trusted in her unwavering faith.”
The page adds: “Her impact is extraordinary, as is witnessed in the prayer groups, vigils held at the homes of friends and family, church and school gatherings, and memorial runs and walks held in her honor. The outpouring of love and grievance would have surprised Liza, who never thought or acted as if she were something special – though she certainly was.”
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But her “most cherished role,” the obituary states, “was that of wife and mother.”
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“Liza was a light to all who knew her,” it goes on. “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. To know her was to love her and to be loved by her.”
Details regarding the tragedy that befell Fletcher have been scant, and police have not released information regarding how she died or the motive behind the attack.
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Deputy Attorney General Steve Mulroy said Tuesday that investigators had “no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger.” He did not divulge a possible motive.
Fletcher’s family has asked that any memorials be made in the form of contributions to the Liza Wellford Fletcher Memorial Fund at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Christ Methodist Day School, and Second Presbyterian Church.