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Suspect charged in abduction of missing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher

Eliza Fletcher, 34, was abducted and forced into a vehicle while she was jogging near the University of Memphis campus. (Memphis Police Department/AP)

A man has been charged and detained in the “violent” abduction of Eliza Fletcher, police said Sunday, but the Memphis teacher remains missing.

A body was found Monday afternoon several miles from the location of the abduction, police said, but they declined to say whether the discovery was related to the Fletcher case. “The identity of this person and the cause of death is unconfirmed at this time,” Sgt. Louis Brownlee of the Memphis police said in an email, adding that the investigation into the abduction remains ongoing.

Fletcher, 34, was last seen jogging in a pink top and purple shorts Friday about 4:20 a.m. near the University of Memphis campus in southwest Tennessee. Surveillance video showed her being forced into a black GMC Terrain SUV, according to an affidavit made public Sunday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The kindergarten teacher, who goes by Liza, is a granddaughter of the late billionaire Joseph Orgill III, who ran Orgill, a large distributor of hardware and home improvement supplies.

Police suspect Fletcher, a mother of two, suffered “serious injury” during the abduction. “There appeared to be a struggle,” the affidavit said, citing the surveillance footage.

A pair of sandals — alongside Fletcher’s cellphone and water bottle — was recovered near the site of her disappearance. DNA on the sandals matched that of a 38-year-old man named Cleotha Abston, Memphis police said in a statement on Twitter. Investigators also tracked Abston’s cellphone number and location history, which placed Abston in the vicinity at about the same time the abduction happened.

Abston has been charged with “especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence,” police said. He was “behaving oddly” and “cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner,” the affidavit said, citing statements from a witness and Abston’s brother.

They found Abston on Saturday evening outside his last known address, an apartment complex in front of which the SUV in question was parked. Abston tried to flee but was detained by a team of U.S. Marshals.

During questioning, Abston refused to tell investigators anything about Fletcher’s whereabouts, according to the affidavit.

As a massive search for Fletcher continues, her family has offered a $50,000 reward for tips leading to her whereabouts.

“We look forward to Eliza’s safe return and hope that this award will help the police capture those who committed this crime,” Fletcher’s uncle Mike Keeney said in a video statement released Friday night. The family could not be immediately reached late Sunday.

The investigation into the abduction is “active and ongoing,” police said. There have been 68 reported kidnappings or abductions in Memphis this year, according to Memphis public safety data.

St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, an all-girls prep school where Fletcher is employed, said in a statement on Twitter that Fletcher is a “beloved” junior kindergarten teacher.

Police arrested Mario Abston, 36, Cleotha Abston’s brother, on drug and firearms charges, but they do not believe he is connected to Fletcher’s abduction, according to a statement.

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