OCILLA, Ga - It was the news that the family of a Georgia teacher who was killed more than a decade ago had been waiting to hear – an arrest in the case.
Law enforcement officials from several agencies gathered Thursday afternoon to announce that Ryan Alexander Duke had been arrested and charged in the 2005 killing of Tara Grinstead.
[READ: Who is Tara Grinstead?]
Grinstead disappeared from her Ocilla, Georgia, 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.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Thursday that someone walked into the sheriff's office a few days ago 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," said GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson. "I can say that this gentleman never came up on our radar through the investigation."
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Duke was taken into custody Wednesday. On Thursday, he was arrested and charged with murder.
Duke appeared in court Thursday afternoon. He is charged with burglary, aggravated assault, murder and concealing a death.
During his first court appearance, we heard for the first time authorities believe Duke used his hands to kill Grinstead.
Investigators told a judge they first believe Duke went to Grinstead’s home for a burglary and he killed her and then took her body elsewhere to hide it.
Duke attended the high school where Grinstead worked and graduated three years before her disappearance, according to the GBI.
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 this 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.
“So many people have been hurt by this. We hope and pray that with time this community can finally have closure and start to heal from this," Grinstead said. "She was able to fulfill many of her dreams right here in Ocilla."
Retired GBI agent Gary Rothwell led the investigation into Grinstead’s death for years.
“It's an emotional day,” Rothwell told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas. “It was essentially my legacy. It was a failure under my watch.”
Rothwell rushed from Florida to watch Duke face charges in the murder of Grinstead.
“Human nature is that it's a relief, that maybe it wasn't something that we overlooked or didn't do that caused this case to be unsolved for so long,” Rothwell said. “Thank God for answered prayers.”
Duke is being held without bond. Authorities are not saying what direct connection, if any, he might have had to Grinstead.
Investigators confirmed they have not found her remains.
Atlanta man revives interest in case with podcast
In 2016, Channel 2 Action News interviewed a man who started a podcast about the case.
Payne Lindsey’s podcast “Up and Vanished” focuses on Grinstead's disappearance.
"I think the whole case needs a fresh look," Lindsey said.
Lindsey told Channel 2 Action News he has been sharing new leads and information with a private investigator, who worked with Grinstead’s family shortly after her disappearance.
"Ever since I released the first episode, every week I've had new calls, new emails from locals," Lindsey said.
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