Man Accused of Stabbing, Setting Fire to Pastor Who Was Helping Him

A pastor was allegedly stabbed and set on fire by a parishioner she was counseling. Her body was found by her distraught husband and daughter.

Rev. Marita Harrell was helping 27-year-old Christopher Griggs with mentoring and support when he turned on her, attacking her with a large kitchen knife before burning her, according to police.

The 57-year-old pastor, a mother of two, worked at the Connections @ Metropolitan Church in Atlanta, Georgia. DeKalb County Police Department said Griggs killed Harrell at his home in the 1300 block of Panola Road on May 18, then dumped her body in a van on the 1600 block of Coffee Road and started a fire in a bid to destroy the evidence. Officers arrested Griggs on suspicion of murder and arson on Thursday.

Harrell's husband Antonio Harrell, who she had been married to for more than 27 years, and the couple's eldest daughter Marae Harrell went looking for her when she didn't return home after her appointment on Wednesday night. They tracked her cell phone to her location, where they made the horrifying discovery. Marae Harrell fought back tears as she told Fox 5 News: "I saw her there. And I still was expecting her to wake up, open her eyes."

Antonio Harrell told the news station that the family had been uneasy about some of the troubled men the pastor felt called to help. He said: "That was a point of contention between the two of us. All of us. We begged her to be careful, specifically with this gentleman. He called a couple of weeks ago. She told me, 'Antonio, God has placed these people in my path, and I cannot, cannot turn away from them.'" The couple's youngest daughter Alyse paid tribute to her mom, adding: She is just the best person that I have ever met, and I am so lucky to have had her been my mother."

Rev. Marita Harrell
Rev. Marita Harrell who was found stabbed to death last week. A man she was helping through her church has been accused of her murder. Connections UMC

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church said: "I am broken-hearted since being informed of the death of Rev. Marita Harrell. It is a blow to our clergy family, especially since it appears she 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. 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."

Griggs is currently being held at the DeKalb County Jail without bond. He appeared before a DeKalb County judge during a virtual hearing on Saturday to hear he was charged with one count of malice murder and one count of first-degree arson. He is set to have a bond hearing before a Superior Court judge next month.

Newsweek has reached out to DeKalb County Police Department for further information.