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Murder in Memphis: This time it’s a pastor

Capleville United Methodist Church in Hickory Hill honored the life of their late pastor Dr. Autura Eason-Williams Tuesday evening (July 19).

Dr. Eason-Williams was fatally shot at her Whitehaven home about 4:15 p.m. Monday (July 18) during what police officials said was a carjacking. Two teenagers have been charged in the incident.

Tuesday’s Service of Remembrance and Prayer service attracted a solemn gathering of heartbroken family and friends, who celebrated the life of the beloved victim, who was “more than a pastor, but family.”

Jackie Pride, in a Facebook post, said, “We became friends and shared many memories through Boy Scout Troop 355, Kirby Middle, and Kirby High PTA…Thank you for doing LIFE with us! May God comfort her family and friends.”

Dr. Eason-Williams was not only a pastor, but an accomplished prelate who served as district superintendent of the United Methodist Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference’s Metro District.

News of her death swept swiftly through the local church community. 

Police Monday responded to a shooting at 1000 Whitehaven Lane and found the mortally wounded Dr. Eason-Williams. 

The news sent shockwaves through the Memphis religious community, prompting an outpouring of sympathy on social media platforms.

The Rev. Dr. Rosalyn R. Nichols, organizing pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Rosalyn Nichols was a good friend of Eason-Williams. Her immediate response to news of the death was to post, “No words,” on her Facebook page. She had more to say Wednesday (July 20).

“When the Rev. Dr. Herbert Lester served as pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, I met the Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams. She was warm and enthusiastic about serving God and God’s people. 

“More than words, it was how she made everyone feel because of what they saw and heard when she was around. Needless to say, our hearts are broken,” Nichols said.

Police took three teens into custody, calling them “persons of interest.” 

According to MPD, the suspects were apprehended after carjacking another woman at gunpoint in Cordova.

By Tuesday, police had charged a 15-year-old boy with first-degree murder, and a 16-year-old boy with theft of property relating to the carjacking. A 17-year-old, who also was detained, was released without charges Tuesday night.

Dr. Eason-Williams’ slaying sparked anger, leading some to call for the teens to be tried as adults.

Dr. Eason-Williams is the second female United Methodist pastor to be murdered this year.

The Rev. Marita Harrell, pastor at Connections, Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Atlanta, was fatally stabbed in May allegedly by a 27-year-old man she was ministering to in his home.

Rev. Harrell’s body was found in a car several miles from the suspect’s home. The vehicle had been set on fire.

Dr. Eason-Williams entered the ministry full-time in 1997, and the United Methodist Church had appointed her in various capacities since 2002. 

She was commissioned Provisional Elder in 2003 and Ordained Elder in 2006.

Dr. Eason-Williams was widely known as a popular youth and women’s leader who facilitated camps, retreats, and other events.

She frequently was sought as a preacher for local churches, district gatherings, and conference events.

Dr. Eason-Williams was instrumental in creating My Sister’s Keeper, an outreach that addresses health disparities of African-American women. 

She also took a key role in building the Congregational Health Network, a coalition of 600 churches that address health disparities and build relationships between hospitals, the faith community, and neighborhoods.

Memphis City Council member Patrice Robinson, whose district includes Whitehaven, said she will meet with constituents to take steps to make the community a safer place.

“We are saddened about this senseless act of violence,” said Robinson. “Not only will we be praying for the family, but we want to work together as a community to ensure that gun violence does not become a greater issue in Whitehaven.

“We will do whatever we need to do to keep our families safe.”

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