Teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead vanished from her south Georgia house in 2005, leaving a mystery that had stumped investigators for practically 12 years — till a tip led to an unexpected arrest.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that a former student at Irwin County High School, exactly where Grinstead taught history, has been charged with her murder.
The suspect, 33-year-old Ryan Alexander Duke, was getting held at the Irwin County jail in Ocilla, about 165 miles southeast of Atlanta.
"We always believed that it would be solved," Connie Grinstead, the missing woman's stepmother, told reporters at a courthouse news conference Thursday in which the GBI announced the arrest. "We just did not know when."
The arrest delivers some answers for a little farming community that has extended grappled with Grinstead's strange disappearance.
"When I heard, I just broke down in tears of relief, of anger, of sadness and aggravation," mentioned Wendy McFarland, a fellow teacher and pal of Grinstead's. "Every little thing that had been carried for the last 11 years and 4 months just bubbled to the surface."
Duke burglarized the teacher's property, and utilized his hands to kill her inside the residence, according to warrants that have been read at a late Thursday court hearing, area news outlets reported. He then removed her body from the household with the intent of concealing her death, the warrants state.
Numerous inquiries remain about why she was killed.
GBI agent J.T. Ricketson, the lead investigator, declined to discuss Grinstead's partnership to the suspect and left open the possibility that others were involved. He would not comment on what occurred to the physique, later released a statement saying "the search for Grinstead's remains continues."
Ricketson told reporters a tip days ago led investigators to make the arrest.
Duke had been a student at Irwin County Higher College, where Grinstead taught history, about three years just before the teacher vanished, Ricketson added.
He didn't elaborate but noted that just after hundreds of leads in the case that incorporated interviewing many people today, Duke had by no means been among them.
"This gentleman by no means came up on our radar," Ricketson said.
McFarland said she was shocked authorities were accusing Duke, saying she remembered him as a polite higher college athlete who played on the tennis group.
"My recollection of him is that he was a extremely bright young man," McFarland mentioned. "He was quite nice."
McFarland said she did not know no matter if Grinstead had taught Duke.
It wasn't instantly known if Duke had an lawyer.
Grinstead was 30 when she was last observed Oct. 22, 2005. The former Miss Georgia contestant, who in 1999 won the title Miss Tifton in a nearby city, spent the day assisting contestants in a Miss Sweet Potato pageant and then attended a cookout. She was reported missing two days later following failing to report to operate.
Her residence was discovered locked, her automobile parked in the driveway. Her dog and cat have been home, but Grinstead's purse and keys had been gone. A latex glove — the form worn by police officers and healthcare workers — was located in her yard.
Ricketson stated police suspected foul play from the starting, but discovered little physical evidence. Technically she remained classified as a missing person.
Grinstead's 2005 disappearance sparked an outpouring of support in Ocilla, a farm community of about three,300 men and women, and surrounding Irwin County.
Volunteers helped search on foot, though a Tara Command Center was set up with a phone tip line and a web site, http://www.findtara.com. Rewards of $100,000 were provided for Grinstead's secure return or for information and facts leading to an arrest and conviction if she was harmed.
"Right right after it happened, there were men and women on almost everything from ATVs to horses looking for her more than the complete whole county," mentioned the Rev. Joey Whitley, a Baptist minister and the elected chairman of Irwin County.
For 11 years and four months, the search for answers never ever stopped entirely. As the GBI announced Duke's arrest, a sign asking "Where's Tara?" nevertheless hung outdoors the sheriff's office.
A regional probate judge declared Grinstead dead at her father's request in 2010. But some Irwin County residents kept hope alive. Whitely stated one of them was a lady in his office.
He stated she told him: "You know I was nonetheless hoping. I nonetheless had that hope that they would come across her alive someplace."
Connected Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
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