OCILLA, Ga. - It was a case that shook a small Georgia town.
News of an arrest Thursday in the killing of popular Ocilla teacher Tara Grinstead brought some relief for those who knew Grinstead well.
The case has been on the hearts and minds of the people of Ocilla for more than a decade after Grinstead disappeared from her home in October 2005. She was last seen at a co-worker’s barbecue before she left to go home.
She was a former beauty queen who was well-liked in the small town.
Law enforcement officials from several agencies gathered Thursday afternoon to announce that Ryan Alexander Duke had been arrested and charged Grinstead’s killing.
“It's emotional. I have staff members that are emotional at the school,” said assistant principal Thad Clayton with Irwin County High School, who worked with Grinstead at the time of her death.
“It's emotional and we'd like to be able to continue to move forward and to heal,” Clayton told Channel 2’s Lori Wilson.
Clayton was in the Irwin County courthouse Thursday for the announcement of an arrest in the death of his friend Tara Grinstead, who he called a well-liked teacher.
“She was passionate about teaching history, students loved her for that. She was an extracurricular coach,” Clayton told Wilson.
Courtnie Parrish was also in the courtroom Thursday. She was 25 when Grinstead disappeared from her neighborhood.
“I actually lived about two blocks away in a house that I rented there that belonged to my grandmother,” Parish said.
She remembers being afraid when she heard about Grinstead’s disappearance.
“I always kept an eye out on my surroundings, and made sure that the deadbolts were locked. And that sort of thing so ... you couldn't rest very well,” Parish said.
Now, a murder charge against Duke, a former student, brings relief.
“Today the emotions are a little raw,” Clayton said.
“You've got butterflies in your stomach because they finally figured out what may have happened to her. It's a relief but then it's kind of a shock because they finally figured out what happened,” said Deborah Esparza, who knew Grinstead. “It's just been something that Ocilla has been known for, and it's kind of sad. We got a great community here, and we just hope that that's been hopefully put to rest.”
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