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Female jogger escapes attacker in Florida days after murder of Memphis heiress Eliza Fletcher on morning run

The woman’s lucky escape came as the nation is reeling from the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher, which has shone a spotlight on the dangers facing female joggers

Rachel Sharp
Friday 09 September 2022 14:54 BST
Man appears in court charged with murder of heiress Eliza Fletcher

A female jogger managed to escape an attacker as she ran along a popular hiking trail in Florida – just days after business heiress Eliza Fletcher was snatched and murdered on her regular morning run in Memphis.

The woman was running along the popular Little Econ Greenway Trail in Orlando at around 5pm on Sunday when 19-year-old Israel Pagan grabbed her, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The victim managed to fight off her attacker and even took a photo of the perpetrator before fleeing the scene.

According to an affidavit, obtained by Local 10, investigators were able to use the picture to identify the suspect and take Mr Pagan into custody.

When questioned, Mr Pagan confessed to approaching the jogger from behind and grabbing her shoulders, according to the affidavit.

He claimed that he was intoxicated at the time and that, after the pair fell to the ground and he got on top of her, he backed away, the affidavit stated.

Mr Pagan is charged with one count of attempted sexual battery of a victim 12 years of age or older. He was booked into Orange County jail.

Investigators have warned that Mr Pagan may have attacked other victims in the past and are asking anyone with information about other incidents to contact Crimeline at 800-423-8477.

The woman’s lucky escape came just two days after the murder of 34-year-old kindergarten teacher Ms Fletcher reignited fears among female joggers in Memphis and across the wider US.

Israel Pagan admitted to grabbing the woman from behind as she ran along the popular trail (Orange County Sheriff's Office)

Ms Fletcher, a marathon runner and mother-of-two, was running her regular morning route close to the University of Memphis campus last Friday morning (2 September) when she was attacked and dragged into a vehicle by a man.

Her body was found more than three days later behind an abandoned building in south Memphis. Her purple Lululemon running shorts were found discarded in a nearby trash bag.

Cleotha Abston Henderson, a 38-year-old man with a prior kidnapping conviction, has been charged with her murder.

There is no sign that he knew his victim prior to the attack, with Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy saying it appears to have been “an isolated attack by a stranger”.

On Friday morning, the one-week anniversary of her abduction and murder, hundreds of women came out to complete the run Ms Fletcher never got to finish.

The event, named “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run”, took runners along the business heiress’s regular 8.2 mile route down Central Avenue and back to Belvedere, where she lived with her husband and two sons.

Eliza Fletcher (left) was abducted and killed while out for a run. She was captured on surveillance footage (right) moments before the attack (Memphis Police Department/AP)

It began at 4.20am – the exact same time that surveillance footage captured her being violently snatched by her attacker.

Organiser Danielle Heineman told The Independent on Wednesday that she organised the event in protest that women should be able to go for a run at any time and wearing any clothes that they want without fearing their lives could be in danger.

“We want to stand up and say it’s okay for women to run at 4 o’clock in the morning and it’s okay for women to run in whatever type of clothing they feel comfortable in,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to be shunned to running on a treadmill or have to run with a man.”

She added: “I also wanted to finish what Liza started which is finish her run.”

The event comes as tragic parallels have been made between Ms Fletcher’s abduction and death and the murders of multiple other women while they were out on jogs near their homes.

Several people have taken to social media this week to call for an end to women living in fear as they go about their daily lives, with the hashtag #ElizaFletcher circulating on Twitter.

Others have slammed the “victim blaming” from those online who have questioned why Ms Fletcher was running at the time of day that she did.

Runners head down the sidewalk past Fountain Square on Georgia Avenue during ‘Finish Eliza’s Run’ on Friday morning (AP)

“How about instead of saying ‘she shouldn’t have been jogging at 4:30 in the morning’…we say that no one should be fearful of being abducted or killed on a run. She did nothing wrong. #bebetter #ElizaFletcher,” one woman tweeted.

Ms Fletcher’s death marks just the latest in a growing number of women attacked while out running in recent years.

Ally Brueger, a 31-year-old nurse, would go on 10 mile runs near her home in Michigan every day. In July 2016, she was shot in the back and killed while on one of her usual runs. Her killer has never been found.

In July 2018, Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, vanished while out for a jog near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. Her body was later found buried in a shallow grave in a cornfield, with only her bright running shoes visible. She had been stabbed to death.

In August 2020, 25-year-old nurse Sydney Sutherland was snatched in eerily similar circumstances while running near her home in Arkansas. Her body was found two days later. A farm worker pleaded guilty to her rape and murder last year.

Funeral arrangements have now been announced for Ms Fletcher. Services will be held at 10am on Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church at Poplar and Goodlett – the same church where she married her husband in 2014.

“Liza was a light to all who knew her. 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,” reads her obituary, posted Thursday by Canale Funeral Directors.

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