Beloved pastor found burned, stabbed in van after husband tracks phone, GA cops say

·3 min read
Matt Rourke/AP

A Georgia man tracking his wife opened the trunk of her minivan and found her body stabbed and burned inside, he told police.

Antonio Harrell and his daughter had been tracking Marita Harrell’s location the whole day on May 18, according to a Dekalb County police incident report. Marita Harrell was a pastor, and she had visited a man who had recently gotten out of jail for lunch in the Atlanta metro area.

After Harrell’s husband found her body in Lithonia, he called the police.

Harrell, a 57-year-old mother to two daughters who lived in McDonough and a pastor to many, was a familiar face in her community, according to her biography with Connections United Methodist Church.

“I was fortunate to know her during our seminary years, where ... she was a great leader and supportive classmate,” a priest said on Facebook. “We had had a message exchange last month. She was always close to Jesus.”

Harrell liked to help people who had been incarcerated, according to the police incident report, even though her husband asked her not to for her safety.

On the day her body was found, Harrell messaged a friend that she planned to meet a man for lunch. She gave her friend the name of the man, Christopher Griggs, and the meeting location, according to the incident report, adding in her message that she “could never be too careful,” and “didn’t want to hear anything from her husband,” according to police.

Once investigators learned that Harrell had visited the man’s residence, authorities obtained a search warrant, FOX5 Atlanta reported.

Inside, officers found what appeared to be the scene of the stabbing, according to FOX5 Atlanta. Griggs wasn’t at the home when police arrived but told officers that he would turn himself in, the outlet reported.

When he didn’t turn himself in at the scheduled time, officers went to find him, FOX5 Atlanta reported.

Griggs, 27, was arrested on charges of murder and first-degree arson and is being held at DeKalb County Jail, records show.

Officers haven’t disclosed a possible motive. The investigation is ongoing, according to police.

Harrell lived in the Atlanta area for over 30 years and worked for the advertising department at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before working as a pastor, according to her biography with Connections UMC. She earned her Master of Divinity Degree in 2014 and her License to Preach in 2015.

She was involved with Rivertown United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Children’s Home and the Newnan Chapel United Methodist Church, according to her biography.

Harrell was described as a “child of God,” her biography said.

“I know the love Rivertown has for (Harrell), and the love she has for Rivertown. We are asked to be in prayer especially for her husband and daughters. Please keep the entire family in your prayers. May God’s comforting arms envelop her family, friends, and loved ones,” Rivertown United Methodist Church posted on Facebook.

“She was passionate about what she did, which was helping those who are lost and left out,” the Rev. Michael T. McQueen, who works as UMC’s district superintendent over Fulton and Clayton County churches, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She was doing what she loved to do. That’s what makes this so tragic.”

Lithonia is about 19 miles east of Atlanta.

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