Union community struggles with loss of student

Olivia Greenlee

Editor’s note: See a slideshow at the end of the story.

The Union University community is in shock after the death of Olivia Greenlee, senior music education major, and the arrest of her fiancé, Charles Pittman, senior Christian ministries major, on a charge of first degree murder.

The Jackson Police Department also has charged Pittman with tampering with evidence.

“I think there are just ongoing questions about the bizarre nature of this entire event,” said David Dockery, university president. “The gamut of emotions goes from one end of the spectrum to another, from dazed, confused, disbelief, disappointment, mourning, grieving, sadness to anger. Covering all of that, I think there is a genuine sense of hopefulness in God’s faithfulness that will carry us through.”

Pittman’s preliminary court date is set for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 27. He will be represented by a public defender.

Per university policy, Pittman has been placed on immediate suspension from Union.

Pittman and Greenlee were engaged to marry this August.

Jackson police were called about 7:50 a.m. Feb. 12 after Safety and Security found Greenlee dead in her 2001 Toyota Corolla in the parking lot behind Luther Hall, an auxiliary building on Union’s campus.

Investigators and an assistant county medical examiner were called to the scene.

A 9mm handgun was found inside the locked car, and the preliminary cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the affidavit of complaint read at Pittman’s Feb. 18 arraignment.

The gun had been stolen from a roommate of Pittman prior to the incident, according to the affidavit.

Police believe Greenlee was killed Tuesday night shortly after 7 p.m., said Captain Tyreece Miller of the JPD.

Pittman and Greenlee had dinner Tuesday night, and Pittman was the last person who saw Greenlee alive, said Chief Gill Kendrick of the JPD.

“There were inconsistencies with the crime scene, which led us to question him further,” Miller said.

Pittman was taken into custody Feb. 14 and booked at the Madison County Jail on an investigative hold after being interviewed.

During initial interviews with investigators, Pittman stated that on Feb. 11 he had dinner with Greenlee before she dropped him off at his apartment, according to the affidavit.

Pittman stated that he had become concerned about Greenlee’s emotional state and had begun texting her and looking for her, even notifying Greenlee’s parents, who traveled from Dyersburg to assist in searching for her.

On the morning of Feb. 12, Pittman called Union security and asked that they check the campus for the victim, according to the affidavit.

Carson Hawkins, director of Safety and Security, confirmed Security officer Rusty Tuders found Greenlee’s body.

On Feb. 14 in a follow up interview, investigators asked Pittman to provide the clothing he wore when having dinner with Greenlee.

He gave officers different clothing than what he wore in video evidence provided by the restaurant.

When confronted, Pittman provided investigators with the laundered, bleached clothing that he wore to the restaurant, according to the affidavit.

Pittman then stated to investigators that while sitting in the car with Greenlee at Luther Hall, he provided her with the handgun and that Greenlee shot herself.

He then stated that he left Greenlee in her car, locked the doors and began walking back to his apartment located in Cherry Grove Apartments, adjacent to Union’s campus.

He also placed calls and sent texts to Greenlee’s phone to avoid suspicion upon her body being found, according to the affidavit.

“The evidence shows that on Tuesday night Pittman shot Greenlee as she sat in her car,” stated a Feb. 15 press release from the JPD. “Pittman then staged the crime scene to give the appearance that Greenlee had committed suicide.”

The judicial process could take months or even years.

“Understanding that an arrest is not the same thing as a conviction, we now need to let the judicial process run its course,” said Dockery in a Feb. 15 statement. “Union University continues to cooperate with authorities.”

Greenlee was a member of First Baptist Church in Dyersburg, a group leader for children’s music camps, a member of Union University Singers and a member of Union’s Zeta Tau Alpha sorority chapter.

She loved to sing, joke and laugh, said Amiee Brassart, senior elementary education major, who met Greenlee freshman year and sang with her in choir at Union.

“She had one of those deep belly laughs,” said Hillarie Henderson, junior vocal music education major who also sang with Greenlee. “You could just hear her as soon as she started talking.”

That laugh was “contagious,” Brassart said.

Henderson often roomed with Greenlee on trips with the Union choir, the Union University Singers, including one to New Orleans and another to Nashville.

On those trips they shared both laughter and serious conversation about their Christian beliefs.

Greenlee loved expressing her faith to as many people as she could, Henderson said.

“She showed it in her actions and just her countenance,” Brassart said. “The Bible says that those who fear the Lord radiate, and she did.”

Greenlee had a carefree personality and was a “go-getter” who sometimes wore sparkly TOMS with her choir dresses.

She loved to laugh and sing with her sister, Mollie, who sang with her in choir until graduating in 2013.

Greenlee also is survived by another sister, Sara Hamm, and her husband, Zach, her parents Barry and Tina Greenlee, and her grandparents, the Rev. Joe and Nadene Naylor and Norvel and Rose Greenlee, according to her obituary.

“The sweetness of her voice was surpassed only by her smile,” said Christopher Mathews, chairman of the Department of Music.

Both Greenlee and her fiancé lived separately in off-campus apartments, Henderson said.

Although Henderson knew the story of how Greenlee and Pittman became engaged, she did not know Pittman personally.

“It has been very dark,” Henderson said. “It was heartbreaking from the moment we found out that Olivia was no longer with us. And so I think that that hope is what is keeping everyone so calm and so reassured that everything will be OK. And as much as we know the right words, we know the right truths, we know everything to say, but keeping firm in our faith and keeping the faith obviously is just so important.”

Several departmental meetings have been held, particularly in the Department of Music and the School of Theology and Missions, for faculty and students to pray for and encourage each other.

Other such meetings have occurred at Union’s sororities and fraternities. When news of Pittman’s arrest broke, a resident adviser gathered freshmen in the McAfee Commons for a time of prayer.

Classes have been altered several times since Greenlee’s death.

Two town hall meetings were held Feb. 17, one for students and one for faculty and staff.

Crisis counselors were available to students and could be connected with by going to the front desk of the Bowld Student Commons or by contacting the Office of Student Services.

“There is not a one-size manner in which the student body as a whole is going to process this,” said Dockery. “That being the case, we want to be sensitive to the struggles that some might face, to be there to provide help, enablement and support while helping those who move to normalcy a little more quickly to be able to flourish.”

The Office of Spiritual Life is reaching out to students who knew Greenlee or Pittman and is also working with Life Group leaders so they can reach freshmen and transfers with whom they engaged in the fall.

Some Life Groups — which are groups of new students facilitated in the fall by a male and female upperclassman — will rejoin each other for a meeting during which the upperclassmen can evaluate how the newer students are doing, said Taylor Worley, associate dean for University Ministries and assistant professor of Christian Thought and Tradition.

For the many Life Group leaders who know Pittman, this time is especially difficult, Worley said.

Pittman led a Life Group during 2012 and was a part of the Life Group support team during 2013.

“Obviously the family group that Charlie had been a part of last year … [is] very shaken by the news of his arrest,” Worley said, adding that Spiritual Life staff members have checked on these students regularly.

In the School of Theology and Missions, Worley said he has seen Pittman’s classmates in the department reaching out to care for each other.

Neither Dockery nor Kendrick knew of any other instances like this that involved two students in a relationship at another institution.

“This one, it has a domestic turn to it, it has a relationship as a nexus to it,” Kendrick said.

Both Greenlee and Pittman were part of close communities on campus, Dockery said.

“This is more than an academic context,” Dockery said. “This is a family. And we’ve had loss in the family, and that makes the hurt all the more worse.”

A celebration of life service was held for Greenlee Feb. 16 at First Baptist Church in Dyersburg, a service several Union students attended.

“That was something I was very encouraged with yesterday at her service: that we have a call to live out our testimony,” said Brassart the day after attending Greenlee’s service. “And yes, it hurts and it stinks and we have questions, but at the end of the day we want to look like Christ, and Olivia did up until her death. She looked like Christ.”

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Editor’s note: Permission for the use of  all photos published within and in association with this post has been given specifically to the Cardinal & Cream.

About Katherine Burgess 70 Articles
Katherine Burgess, a class of 2015 journalism alumna, is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Cardinal & Cream. Her journalism has taken her from a United Nations Tribunal to the largest maximum security prison in the United States to Capitol Hill. She is now the Education Reporter for the Jackson Sun. Follow her on Twitter @kathsburgess