Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation identifying the make and model of the vehicle being sought and the family offering a reward for information.
A woman last seen jogging early Friday morning on the University of Memphis campus is believed to have been abducted, police said, launching a search for a dark-colored SUV, which the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has now identified as a GMC Terrain . leaving the scene.
University of Memphis police said 34-year-old Eliza “Liza” Fletcher, a teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, was last seen around 4:30 a.m. while jogging near the intersection of Central Avenue and Zach H. Curlin Street.
Who is Eliza Fletcher? Police say someone kidnapped Eliza Fletcher near the UofM. Who is she?
The area where Fletcher was last reported is between the Herff College of Engineering and the university’s music school. Just before noon Friday, MPD spokeswoman Maj. Karen Rudolph said the FBI and TBI have been called in to assist in the investigation.
University police said someone in a dark SUV approached Fletcher and forced her into the vehicle after a brief struggle. The dark-colored SUV was identified Friday night as a dark-colored GMC Terrain.
Fletcher, a mother of two, is 5′ 6″, weighs 137 pounds and has brown hair, police said. MPD released a photo of Fletcher jogging in purple shorts and a pink or purple sports bra. In the photo, her hair is pulled into a ponytail.
Officers were called around 7:45 a.m. when Fletcher had not returned home by that point, Memphis police said. University police said he often ran on Central Avenue.
University Police announced in a campus safety alert that Fletcher’s cell phone and water bottle were found in front of a university house in the 3800 block of Central Avenue.
Anyone with information can call the Memphis Police Department at (901) 545-2677. Police are also looking for dash cam footage from the area of the U of M. The SUV was last seen driving west.
Through Crimestoppers, Fletcher’s family offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for her disappearance.
“We look forward to Eliza’s safe return and hope this award will help police catch those who committed this crime,” Fletcher’s family said in a statement released Friday night via Crimestoppers.
Traffic is down to one lane in both directions in the area of Central Avenue and Zach H. Curlin Street as police continue to investigate, police said at noon Friday. By early evening, MPD had removed the mobile command center, opening all lanes of traffic.
“One day we will eliminate this kind of tragedy”
Fletcher attends Second Presbyterian Church in East Memphis. Her pastor, George Robertson, noted in an interview Friday that Fletcher’s kidnapping was not the first in Memphis this year.
“One day we will eliminate this kind of tragedy,” said Robertson, the senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church. “We also regret the kidnapping that happened a few days ago near Wolfchase. We are sorry for all this violence and evil in our city. It just makes us sad. We mourn for ourselves, we mourn for the Fletchers, and we mourn for our city. Our whole city is hurting.”
Fox13 reported this week that a mother and her one-year-old child were kidnapped last weekend near Wolfchase and forced to withdraw money from an ATM before being released. WREG reported on August 18 that two children were kidnapped and later recovered by police.
There have been at least 100 incidents classified as kidnappings in Memphis this year, according to public safety data posted on the city’s website.
Currently, the National Missing and Unidentified Database lists 145 people missing from Shelby County. The earliest of these cases dates back to 1986.
In the past decade, 128 people have disappeared from Shelby County. Among those cases Black men and women make up 86 cases in total — or 67%.
Before Fletcher’s disappearance, 32-year-old Willie Jones was last seen by his mother in late April this year. Nothing has been heard since.
Fletcher is a well-known Memphis school teacher
On social media, news of Fletcher’s disappearance spread quickly, with a Facebook post from the Memphis Police Department being shared 2,500 times by 10:30 a.m. She is a teacher at the Episcopal School of St. Mary’s.
Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph “Joe” Orgill III, the Memphis hardware entrepreneur and philanthropist who has supported causes such as the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and Church Health.
She married Richard Fletcher III in Dixon in 2014, Memphis Magazine reported. The story describes it as “outdoorsy, sporty and warm”.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal: The teacher of St. Mary was kidnapped near the University of Memphis