Hapeville, Georgia police have arrested Tahreem Zeus Rana, an Atlanta police officer, for the shockingly gruesome murder of Vernicia Woodard, a 26-year-old woman he met on Craigslist.
A worker for the city of Hapeville found Woodard's body on fire on August 22. She had also been shot several times. According to Detective Stephen Cushing of the Hapeville Police Department, "First he [Rana] took her to a secluded area to do the crime and then after killing her, he used some kind of fuel to light the body on fire in order to cover up any type of evidence that may be there."
Police issued a wanted poster for Tahreem Zeus Rana, 23, on Wednesday, and were able to arrest Rana around 8:30 am on Thursday. Rana was arrested at the Hatsfield-Jackson International Airport, where he was trying to travel to Monteray, Mexico. It is suspected that the destination was actually just a stop-over on the way to India. Rana had been placed on the no-fly list.
Hapeville police say Rana will be charged with murder, arson, and kidnapping.
Rana was quickly linked to the homicide of Woodard using Woodard's phone records as well as her postings on various classifieds such as Backpage.com, which is where investigators believe now the two actually met. Woodard was meeting Rana for a romantic encounter that obviously ended in tragedy.
Detective Cushing admitted that investigating Rana has been "almost surreal" because of Rana's lifelong ambition to become a cop. For Cushing, the shock lies not only in the fact that a law enforcement officer has been arrested for this gruesome murder, but also because Rana grew up in Hapeville. Cushing stated, "I've been a police officer in the 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."
Atlanta police have already moved to relieve Rana of his duties as a police officer. Carlos Campos, spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, described the department as being "shocked and saddened." By all accounts, it seems as though Rana had been a good police officer, with evaluations that rated him as effective to highly effective over the course of his three-year career and, according to Atlanta Police Department documents, including the internal affairs file on Rana, he faced little disciplinary action.
No word on motive as of yet, but many, especially the family of victim Vernicia Woodard, wonder what could have made a previously upstanding police officer suddenly snap and commit a gruesome crime that has tragically left an 8-year-old child without a mother.