Teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead vanished from her south Georgia residence in 2005, leaving a mystery that had stumped investigators for nearly 12 years — till a tip led to an unexpected arrest.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that a former student at Irwin County Higher School, where Grinstead taught history, has been charged with her murder.
The suspect, 33-year-old Ryan Alexander Duke, was becoming held at the Irwin County jail in Ocilla, about 165 miles southeast of Atlanta.
"We normally 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 frustration," said Wendy McFarland, a fellow teacher and pal of Grinstead's. "All the things that had been carried for the final 11 years and four months just bubbled to the surface."
Duke burglarized the teacher's dwelling, and utilized his hands to kill her inside the residence, according to warrants that had been read at a late Thursday court hearing, region news outlets reported. He then removed her physique from the home with the intent of concealing her death, the warrants state.
Several inquiries stay about why she was killed.
GBI agent J.T. Ricketson, the lead investigator, declined to discuss Grinstead's connection to the suspect and left open the possibility that other people have been involved. He would not comment on what occurred to the body, 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, exactly where Grinstead taught history, about three years just before the teacher vanished, Ricketson added.
He didn't elaborate but noted that right after hundreds of leads in the case that integrated interviewing various persons, Duke had under no circumstances been amongst them.
"This gentleman under no circumstances came up on our radar," Ricketson stated.
McFarland mentioned she was shocked authorities have been accusing Duke, saying she remembered him as a polite high college athlete who played on the tennis team.
"My recollection of him is that he was a very vibrant young man," McFarland stated. "He was quite nice."
McFarland stated she did not know regardless of whether Grinstead had taught Duke.
It wasn't instantly known if Duke had an lawyer.
Grinstead was 30 when she was last seen 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 right after failing to report to operate.
Her house was located locked, her vehicle parked in the driveway. Her dog and cat were household, but Grinstead's purse and keys have been gone. A latex glove — the form worn by police officers and healthcare workers — was identified in her yard.
Ricketson said police suspected foul play from the starting, but found little physical evidence. Technically she remained classified as a missing individual.
Grinstead's 2005 disappearance sparked an outpouring of help in Ocilla, a farm neighborhood of about 3,300 people, and surrounding Irwin County.
Volunteers helped search on foot, when a Tara Command Center was set up with a phone tip line and a web page, //www.findtara.com. Rewards of $one hundred,000 have been presented for Grinstead's safe return or for info top to an arrest and conviction if she was harmed.
"Appropriate immediately after it happened, there were folks on everything from ATVs to horses hunting for her over the entire complete county," said the Rev. Joey Whitley, a Baptist minister and the elected chairman of Irwin County.
For 11 years and 4 months, the search for answers never stopped completely. 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 said 1 of them was a lady in his office.
He said she told him: "You know I was nevertheless hoping. I still had that hope that they would uncover her alive somewhere."
Linked Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
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