Irwin Co. community speaks out after arrest in Grinstead case

Irwin Co. community speaks out after arrest in Grinstead case
Grinstead taught at Irwin Co. High (Source: WALB)
Grinstead taught at Irwin Co. High (Source: WALB)
Ryan Duke was a student at Irwin Co. High (Source: WALB)
Ryan Duke was a student at Irwin Co. High (Source: WALB)

OCILLA, GA (WALB) - On the outside it looked like your typical day at Peck's Place, the local restaurant and gathering place in town.

Business picked up around noon when everyone drops in to pick up a sandwich or two, but if you listened closely to the conversation you'd find it's about more than just weekend plans.

"I don't think anybody believed it until three yesterday afternoon," said Walter Hudson, resident.

Friday's conversation was the murder investigation of 30-year-old teacher Tara Grinstead, who went missing in 2005.

For the past 11 years, investigators didn't know what happened to her. Thursday they charged Ryan Duke with her murder.

After 11 years of no strong leads, people in Ocilla were reeling over the sudden arrest in the murder of former beauty queen and teacher Tara Grinstead.

Ryan Duke, a former student at Irwin County High School where Grinstead taught, is now charged with her murder.

All day people were talking at Peck's Place about the arrest, but it's not the first time the murder of Tara Grinstead was the topic of conversation.

For the past 11 years, people say Grinstead's death investigation was often brought up in conversation. After she went missing in 2005, there was a dark cloud over the community.

People say that following her death everyone was speculating about who could have killed her, how they did it, and why they hadn't come forward.

After a few years they said the conversations dwindled, but they say every time investigators got a lead people would start to speculate again.

Many other residents, including owner David Shuman of Pecks Place, were happy the arrest came Thursday, but they wish it would have come sooner.

Shuman has owned the local restaurant since 1992.

"All the locals come here and just hang out and talk," said Shuman.

Shuman says he remembers Grinstead going through the drive-thru regularly. He says she always had a smile on her face.

"She was just one of those people that was special. God wanted an angel," said Shuman.

When the beauty queen went missing in October of 2005, it had everybody talking.

"A little town like us doesn't have problems like that. Then all of a sudden you do and you realize it will happen anywhere to anybody," said Shuman.

Shuman says for many years, people in the community were speculating about who may have killed Tara Grinstead. Though as the years went on, he says the conversations about her death began to diminish.

"It died down after about for to five years," said Shuman.

Shuman hopes anyone that may have been involved understands how much her death impacted the whole community.

"I hope the first 12 years of their life in the penitentiary or wherever they go I hope is miserable because if the family had knew the next day they could have moved on, but they've had to worry about this for 12 long years and somebody needs to pay for those 12 long years," said Shuman.

The small south Georgia town of Ocilla was rocked Thursday after officials announced an arrest in the decade old disappearance of Tara Grinstead.

Ryan Duke, 33, was arrested Wednesday. He had his first appearance Thursday, where he was charged with burglary, aggravated assault, murder and concealing the body.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation held a press conference Thursday to announce the arrest.

At that conference, Tara's step-mother spoke to the media about how the family was feeling.

Residents in Ocilla havd mixed emotions about the break in the case. Many others who spoke out about the arrest had similar feelings.

Residents say conversations about Tara Grinstead's death may die down, but it will never go away.

The story will always be a part of Ocilla.

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