An Atlanta police officer who grew up in Hapeville used the familiar confines to allegedly murder and burn a 26-year-old woman.
Tahreem Zeus Rana, 23, was arrested and charged with murder, arson and kidnapping in the death and mutilation of Vernicia Woodard’s body. He was apprehended on Wednesday at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after he tried to fly to Mexico.
Woodard’s burned body was discovered by a Hapeville city worker on Elm Street on Aug. 22.
“He took her to a secluded area to do the crime and then, after killing her, used some kind of fuel to light her body on fire,” said Hapeville police Detective Stephen Cushing.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation stated the body was lit on fire in an effort to destroy evidence.
Officers arrested Rana around 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. They say he was headed to Monterey, Mexico, which may have been a stop on the way to India. Rana was on the no-fly list.
Hapeville Police Chief said investigators linked Rana to the horrific crime using the victim’s cellphone records. The two met on the dating site Craigslist. Police believe Rana may have used his service weapon to shoot Woodard.
Woodard leaves behind an 8-year-old daughter.
Personnel files say Rana has served with APD since 2011 and had never faced any disciplinary action. He was assigned to the crime suppression unit in southwest Atlanta. His record shows three car accidents, but nothing else.
Atlanta police issued a statement, saying: “We are shocked and saddened by these developments. The officer has been relieved from duty, and is in a non-enforcement status.”
Rana grew up in Hapeville and one of the detectives involved in the case says he has known Rana since he was a kid.
“I’ve been a police officer in city of Hapeville for 15 years and actually saw this young man grow up and heard him say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a police officer,” Cushing said. “And then, later, to be the one that is actually investigating him in this case.”