BEN HILL COUNTY, Ga. — Dozens of Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents searched a pecan farm in a south Georgia town for Tara Grinstead’s remains Tuesday.
A crew of more than 40 people were involved in the massive dig that lasted all day in Ben Hill County.
"There are agents from eight different GBI offices. I have five crime scene specialists here. We actually enlisted the services of two anthropologists in case we find any skeletal remains," GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson said.
From NewsChopper 2 over the scene, multiple tents and dig areas were visible in the wooded area.
"Agents stood shoulder to shoulder and walked off some area. They then went to their hands and knees and crawled that same area. We identified some specific areas that we gridded off so we can do a grid search," Ricketson said.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas was the only Atlanta reporter on the ground in Ben Hill County as crews searched the area.
"They are down there with trowels and spoons and very small implements trying to dig into the very, very small pieces of dirt just to see if we can collect any evidence," Ricketson said.
Thomas learned that agents were first told about the property last week, but just zeroed in on specific locations on Tuesday. Ricketson said since an arrest last week, interviews with "people who were involved" led his team to the land. The landowner is not involved, he said.
"This is a possible site where she may have been disposed of," Ricketson said. "We are finding some things and we are collecting some evidence. We are hopeful that we can find her remains and that's why we're there."
Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen, was reported missing from her Ocilla home in October 2005.
Last week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and local Georgia authorities announced an arrest in the case. Ryan Alexander Duke was charged with murder, burglary, aggravated assault and concealing a death.
The GBI said that someone walked into a sheriff's office earlier last week with information that led to several new interviews and an arrest.
"Through these interviews, enough probable cause was discovered so we could swear out an arrest warrant charging Ryan Alexander Duke with the murder of Tara Grinstead," Ricketson said.
During Duke's first court appearance, we heard for the first time authorities believe Duke used his hands to kill Grinstead.
Investigators told a judge they believe Duke first went to Grinstead’s home for a burglary and he killed her and then took her body elsewhere to hide it.
Investigators said, since Duke's arrest, they have uncovered even more evidence linking him to the case.
"As long as we're finding evidence, we are staying there," Ricketson said Tuesday.
Duke attended the high school where Grinstead worked and graduated three years before her disappearance, according to the GBI.
"Have you been able to piece together how this was able to be kept a secret for so long?" Thomas asked Ricketson. "Those are answers Ryan Duke has internally. That would be a question for him. He's not sharing," Ricketson said.
After hours of digging, crews left around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Late in the afternoon, the judge issued a gag order in the case.
Grinstead’s stepmother, Connie Grinstead, said Thursday’s arrest was the beginning of the next steps in the case.
“For us, this just starts another chapter in a very long and painful journey,” Grinstead said. "We ask that you keep us in your prayers. Our wounds are deep and our hearts are broken."
Despite the pain, Grinstead said the arrest brings some closure to the family.
"(I) want to thank God for answered prayers," Grinstead said. "We always believed in the GBI and their dedication to her case. We always believed it would be solved. We just did not know when."
Grinstead thanked the Ocilla community for its love and support while the family lived there.
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