An Atlanta pastor was found stabbed to death and burned in her van Wednesday after counseling a man who was recently released from prison.
DeKalb County police have arrested 27-year-old Christopher Griggs and charged him with malice murder and arson in the death of Marita Harrell, 57, the pastor at Connections @ Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Atlanta, WAGA reports.
Investigators say Harrell and her van were dumped about five miles from the home where she had gone to counsel and mentor Griggs. A SWAT team executed a search warrant at the home and found what they believe to be the scene of the stabbing. They did not, however, find Griggs, although they spoke with him on the phone earlier on Thursday, and he told them he would turn himself in.
When Griggs didn’t show up at the appointed time, police launched a search for him. They located and arrested him late Thursday, and he was booked into jail early Friday morning.
A police report said Harrell’s husband of 27 years, Antonio Harrell, found her body while tracking her phone location because he had been worried about her meeting Griggs alone, WXIA reported.
Harrell “told his wife not to meet anymore people who have just been released from jail for safety reasons,” the report said. A friend also warned her about meeting people alone, but Harrell said she wanted “to help people who have been in jail.”
The report goes on to state a friend had also warned her about such meetings, but Harrell said she wanted “to help people who have been in jail.”
Family members told WSB that Harrell worked diligently to help people in her communities, at times helping them raise money to pay bills. Some people, they said, took advantage of her.
Griggs, Harrell’s daughter said, had been in and out of jail several times.
An arrest warrant for Griggs says he used a kitchen knife to stab Harrell and then set her on fire.
According to her bio on her church website, Harrell was a native of Chicago who moved to Atlanta more than 30 years ago. She graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University and earned her Master of Divinity Degree in May 2014.
She is survived by her husband Antonio and their 18- and 15-year-old daughters.
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[Featured image: Marita Harrell/Connections @ Metropolitan United Methodist Church]