OCILLA, GA (WALB) - Ryan Alexander Duke seems to be an unlikely murder suspect, but investigators say he is the man who killed Tara Grinstead, and hid her body.
Duke was actually a student at Irwin County High School, the same school where Grinstead was a teacher. But for the past 11 years, investigators never had him on their radar, that is, until a tip just a few days ago. That's what led them to question and later arrest Ryan Duke for the murder of Tara Grinstead.
The 33-year-old Duke is charged with the murder of Tara Grinstead -- a teacher and beauty queen, who went missing in 2005.
For more than a decade, the GBI followed hundreds of leads, but it was a tip just a few days ago that led them to a long awaited arrest.
"This has taken us 11 years and four months to get us to where we are here," said Agent J. T. Ricketson of the GBI. "What I can say is we have identified a person who is responsible for her death and we have him in our custody right now."
On October 22, 2005, Grinstead disappeared from her home without a trace. Investigators spent countless hours searching land and waterways to find her body, all dead ends. In 2010, a court declared Grinstead dead, but her family was still left without answers, until now.
"We always believed that it would be solved, we just did not know when," said stepmother Connie Grinstead.
Arrest warrants read in court revealed investigators believe Duke killed Grinstead with his hands during a burglary, and then hid her body.
Answers to bring closure in a decade old nightmare for this small south Georgia town.
"This community has really put their emotions out there for the past eleven years trying to help answer the what happened questions. So, it's an emotional day," said Connie Grinstread.
Duke is charged with murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing a death, and will make another court appearance in April.
There's no doubt that many people here in this community had a lot of restless nights wondering what happened to their beloved Tara.
For the friends and family of Tara Grinstead, this is a day they have been waiting for. It was Irwin County High School where Lakin Bailey met Tara Grinstead. Grinstead was Bailey's history teacher.
And when Bailey started her own beauty pageant career, Grinstead - who happened to be Bailey's next door neighbor and a former pageant queen - coached her along the way.
Bailey was at yesterday's press conference when the news broke about her former mentor. She says she was speechless, describing the turn of events as unbelievable. And says what happened 11 years ago, definitely impacted this small town..
"We just made sure that as a community that never locked our doors, we started locking our doors, hiding our children, started watching our back and every move that we made. I mean it was very, very tough," said mentee Lakin Bailey.
And although this news doesn't bring Tara back at least it gives people here some closure knowing that Ryan Duke the man charged with her murder is behind bars this morning.
A former friend of Duke, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he went to school with Duke at Irwin County High School, and graduated together in 2002. They went to dozens of parties together and spent the night over each other's houses.
He describes Duke as a loner and he never would've thought something like this could've happened.
"He was very friendly, hung out. Well known in the community, worked at our local Harvey's. I mean just all around person, it's truly it's kind of really a shock to everyone around."
Ryan Duke's anonymous friend says he lost touch with him after he went off to college.
"This has taken us 11 years and four months to get us to where we are here. What I can say is we have identified a person who is responsible for her death and we have him in our custody right now," said Agent Ricketson.
The GBI said during Thursday's press conference that Duke was not on their radar. It was a tip that came in a few days ago that led them to interview Duke and later arrest him.
He's charged with murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing a death.