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Atlanta pastor stabbed, set on fire by man she was ministering to at his home

Marita Harrell
Marita Harrell |

A metro Atlanta church is mourning the loss of a pastor killed by a man she was reportedly trying to help.

The body of Marita Harrell, 57, was discovered last Wednesday when law enforcement responded to a homicide call near the 1600 block of Coffee Road, according to the DeKalb County Police Department.

Officers found Harrell dead at the scene.

The following day, police arrested 27-year-old Christopher Griggs, according to reports.

Investigators told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Griggs stabbed Harrell while she was ministering to him at his home.

According to warrants cited by a local CBS affiliate, Griggs stabbed Harrell with a large kitchen knife and set her on fire in his Atlanta home. Police say Griggs then left Harrell's body on the side of the road, where it was later discovered.

A search of the Dekalb County inmate database found Griggs was previously jailed for domestic violence and other charges.

Harrell served as the senior pastor at Connections at Metropolitan church, according to her bio on the church's website.

A statement from Connections at Metropolitan in response to Harrell's death reads: "On behalf of the congregation we would like to thank everyone for the outpour of love, support and prayers. All of your kind words are very much appreciated during this time. Your continued prayers are appreciated!"

The church described itself as a "multi-cultural, multi-generational, body of believers, connected to its community through partnerships, programs, and ministries that connect people to Christ."

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church said it "appears [Harrell] died at the hand of one she was helping." 

"Marita was a friend and a shining light among us. I pray for her family, her church, and all who loved her," Haupert-Johnson said. "I am grateful that the Lord she represented so well was with her in all things and accompanied her to her eternal home. May His Spirit comfort those of us who remain."

Haupert-Johnson announced the North Georgia Conference will provide grief support and free counseling sessions for Harrell's clergy colleagues in the wake of her passing.

Rivertown UMC, where Harrell served as pastor from 2016 to 2018, mourned her loss on Facebook.

"I know the love Rivertown has for her, 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," the post reads. "May God's comforting arms envelop her family, friends, and loved ones."

Harrell moved to Atlanta from Chicago over 30 years ago. She worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 22 years. She graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in May 2014.

She is survived by her husband Antonio and daughters Marae and Alyse.

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