Tennessee Adventist School Principal
Found Dead; Student, 16, in Custody
At Memphis Junior Academy, York also taught grades 7 to 11
By Ansel Oliver, Adventist News Network
The principal of Memphis Junior Academy in the U.S. state of Tennessee was found dead late in the morning of August 10, 2011, at the school, and police have a 16-year-old male student in custody. He has since been charged with first-degree murder.
Memphis police said that Suzette York, 49, was found dead with a fatal wound and that the student was on the scene when officers arrived.
York, who served as principal of the school since 2008, also taught grades 7 to 11. Aiming to make the school into a full academy, the school's board voted creation of an 11th grade for this school year, which apparently began August 8.
"This is a very sad day for all of us in this community, and particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist family," said Steve Haley, president of the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which oversees the school.
"She was not only an administrator, but also a colleague, a friend and a fellow believer," Haley said. "Our prayers are lifted on behalf of her husband as well as the staff and students at Memphis Junior Academy. We are also praying for all those impacted by this tragedy."
"Our faith in God and in our mission remains; to it we now add a commitment to honor Suzette York's service and sacrifice," Haley said.
The school has an enrollment of 74 students in kindergarten through grades 10.
Originally from Canada, Suzette M. York was born on April 18, 1962, and attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California. She graduated in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. In 1988 she earned a master's degree in education from Loma Linda University.
York taught for nine years in the British Columbia and Maritime Conferences in Canada. She first came to Memphis Junior Academy as a teacher in 1996 and served until 2001. She returned in 2008 to serve as principal and teacher.
"She had tremendous love for her students," said Marvin Lowman, secretary of the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference. He said York had lobbied the conference education board along with others to expand the school to serve up to grade 12. The board had recently approved the move, Loman said.
"Some students wouldn't go to other Adventist schools to complete high school. She didn't want that to happen," Loman said.
Counseling is being arranged for the students and staff of the school, said Haley, the conference president. He said classes would resume "when it is appropriate."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to revise the age of the alleged assailant, whom Memphis police now say is 16 years of age.