published Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Slain Cleveland banker Melissa Huggins-Jones was putting life back together

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This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.

Former Cleveland, Tenn., resident Melissa Huggins-Jones was turning a life setback into a leap forward.

Her marriage had ended in divorce, but Huggins-Jones had been tapped to manage First Tennessee Bank's first out-of-state branch in Raleigh, N.C., near where her family lives.

The 30-year-old former Cleveland banker had moved to Raleigh just two weeks ago, settling in a nice new apartment complex on Allister Drive in a good part of town known as North Hills.

But then the worst happened.

Early Tuesday morning, Huggins-Jones' daughter discovered her mother's bloody body in bed.

The 8-year-old ran outside and found some construction workers. Someone called 911. The dispatcher asked the caller to go into the apartment.

"There's blood everywhere, ma'am," the caller tells the dispatcher in the tape.

"She's cold, cold as ice, ma'am, and I can't .... there is no pulse," the caller says.

The Raleigh Police Department says her death was murder.

But as of Wednesday afternoon, the department had not said how she was killed and didn't know whether the crime was a random act, according to a statement from spokesman Jim Sughure.

The slaying shocked Huggins-Jones' co-workers and friends in Cleveland.

"She was just a great person and a great employee of the bank. She'll definitely be missed," said Chad Wortman, her direct supervisor, offering condolences to her family.

Huggins-Jones had worked for First Tennessee for about 10 years and had managed the 25th Street branch -- the bank calls them financial centers -- since 2004.

"She was selected to lead that effort in a new market, which says a lot about her," Wortman said.

Mike Griffin, community president of First Tennessee, said the promotion "was a great opportunity for her."

"It's so tragic; we just don't know what to do," he said.

A memorial page on Facebook blossomed with tributes and photos.

"She was always smiling and by the time your conversation with her was finished you would be too!!! Heaven just gained one more amazing angel!!!" wrote Melissa Parsons.

The police department didn't release any details about the investigation. But Raleigh media reported that Huggins-Jones had deleted her Facebook account May 11. NBC News in Raleigh said police will look at the account to search for more details and to "develop a possible suspect."

Tara Waldrop is minister of childhood education at First Baptist Church of Cleveland, where she said Huggins-Jones and her ex-husband were members.

"We are saddened by the passing of Melissa and the tragic events that ended her life," Waldrop said.

"She was an incredible mom, she loved her kids and did all kinds of things with them and for them," Waldrop said. "She volunteered here at the church and had a servant's heart. ... We're thankful that she trusted Jesus. She has an eternity in heaven with God, and those that believe can see her again."

A Facebook post stated that visitation and funeral services will be Saturday and Sunday in Elizabethtown, N.C.

Waldrop said discussions are under way at First Baptist in Cleveland for a memorial service at a later date.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416. Subscribe to Judy on Facebook at Facebook.com/JudyCTFP.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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