A 15-year-old boy has been charged with murder after Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, the pastor of Capleville United Methodist Church in Tennessee, was gunned down during what police believe was a carjacking in the driveway of her Whitehaven home on Monday evening. She was 52.
Friends and loved ones are still struggling to process the fatal shooting of the beloved church leader known for her work with young people and as district superintendent of the Metro District in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference of the denomination.
Eason-Williams was identified as a victim after police officers responded to a shooting on Whitehaven Lane after 4 p.m. Monday, WREG reported. She succumbed to wounds suffered during the shooting at an area hospital.
Memphis police have since charged a 15-year-old boy with first-degree murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery, especially aggravated robbery, carjacking, and employment of a firearm during a dangerous felony. The boy was arrested Tuesday along with a 16-year-old accomplice.
The 16-year-old was charged with theft of property valued between $2,500-$10,000.
"Incidents like these should make everyone have sleepless nights," Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Raines police precinct, Action News 5 reported. "It should make everyone have feelings of hurt and pain."
The Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference urged in a statement that anyone with "any information about where or with whom Autura may have been on that Monday between the hours of 2:30 and 4:30 p.m." to contact Sgt. Q. Smith with the Memphis Police at 901-636-3413.
"It may be helpful for the police investigation," the statement noted. "We all are shocked and saddened by this senseless act."
Jody Hill, president of Memphis Theological Seminary, said in a statement on Facebook that Eason-Williams was a graduate of the school and the seminary community is "devastated" by her death.
"She was a wife, mother, and a devoted friend to many. She led Formation classes at MTS and Signposts groups for the Center for Faith and Imagination. We join so many of you in shock and pain. Autura was a real light and a well of deep care," Hill said.
"Personally, I saw in her the spiritual gift of hospitality. Autura was eager to embrace all of God's children with a warm smile, gentle hug, or encouraging word. We grieve her loss and this senseless violence."
David Perry, a field representative at the United Methodist Foundation for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, called Eason-Williams a "dear friend." He revealed in a Facebook post Wednesday that the Tennessee pastor was on a call with another colleague at the time of her death.
"Even since Monday evening, I've been trying to process the tragic news of the murder of a dear friend and an esteemed colleague, Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams, in her own driveway while talking with another pastor on her cell," Perry wrote.
"Autura's presence and leadership in Methodist circles have been exemplary. … Her leadership was outstanding as a pastor, as a Board Chair, and as a District Superintendent. Autura was strong in her convictions, but loving in the face of disagreement; gentle in her relationships and firm in her faith. Her presence and her faithful walk with Jesus made a difference for so many of us. Now, we share the shock and grief of the violence that ended her walk in this life."
Perry said he is more troubled by the news that the suspect charged in the pastor's murder is a teenager. Perry suggested the murder is a sign that the Church has much work to do.
"My pain over this tragic loss was compounded yesterday by the news that a 15 year old boy pulled the trigger. What an awful evidence of the increasing violence we see in our world! Only a few weeks before, the 19 year old son of another friend and exemplary Christian servant was shot and killed while driving down a main street of Jackson, apparently from a random gang-related act of violence," he said.
"Regardless of our faith, our politics, our personal leanings, it becomes the responsibility of us all to combat the conditions that breed these kinds of senseless, reprehensible acts of violence," he argued. "Every one of us should be praying- for the victims, their families, and, yes, even the perpetrators of these crimes; however, we also should be praying that God will show us how to become agents of change, helping replace violence with kindness, hatred and prejudice with love, gangs with true fellowship, fear with hope, and despair with action. Love and justice require us to allow God to use us in these ways."
Memphis Police Lt. Colonel James Kirkwood, who worked with Eason-Williams, says she was a dedicated youth advocate.
"She was awesome," Kirkwood told Action News 5. "Her strongest advocation was for young people. She fought for young people. It was so important that young people have a chance."