Principal found dead at Tenn. school; student held

A school principal described as very caring and attentive to her students was killed Wednesday in an apparent homicide at a private school and a 17-year-old student was taken into custody, police said.

Officers said the body of Suzette York, 49, was discovered in a classroom by a teacher shortly after 11 a.m. at Memphis Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist Church-affiliated school in east Memphis.

Police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said a male student was taken into custody at the school.

A motive and cause of death were not immediately disclosed. Police said only that York was fatally wounded.

Marvin Lowman, executive secretary with the Kentucky-Tennessee conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said York had been principal at the school since 2008.

Peter Hunter, who attended the school for seven years and now has a 6-year-old cousin in the school, said York was a caring, sweet woman who enjoyed teaching young people.

"She was a wonderful person who was very much involved with her students, a person who cared deeply about the development of her students," he said. "This was not the way she was supposed to go."

Classes at the one-story, red brick school began Monday. A sign out front Wednesday said, "Welcome back." The school has a large back recreation area with a swing set and playground slide.

Tuition ranges from $223 to $840 a month. The school has about 100 students with classes for pre-kindergarten through high school.

"Our staff is committed to providing quality education in a Christian environment," the school's website says.

Hunter said York was a science and math teacher who had left the school, but returned to become an administrator.

"She came back here because she had a passion for the people," he said.

Hunter said the school had a nurturing environment where the goal was to treat everyone as family.

"It shows you that something like this can happen anywhere," he said.

Stephen Rogers and his wife have a son who graduated from the academy and a 14-year-old son who is a freshman there now. Rogers described York as personable and spiritual.

"She had a natural concern for the children being obedient and doing the things that they're supposed to be doing," he said.

Some three hours after the slaying, about 30 people attended a 40-minute prayer service at the nearby Mullins United Methodist Church.

"We are afraid," the Rev. Scottie Brafford said during the service, referring to recent violence in Norway and elsewhere. "We do not know where the bottom is any longer."

Linda Taylor told The Commercial Appeal she received a call from her husband who said the school called and told them to pick up their 14-year-old son, Josiah, because there was an emergency. The school didn't say that someone had been killed.

"I'm just wondering what's going on," she said at the scene.


Associated Press Writers Lucas L. Johnson II and Travis Loller, both in Nashville, contributed to this story.