Nearly a dozen years have passed since a popular teacher vanished without a trace.
Talk of Tara Grinstead has dwindled lately at Peck’s Place restaurant, a few blocks from her home.
Owner Davis Shumar said he didn’t know her well but remembers her coming through the drive-thru of his restaurant that serves “about anything you want.”
At the “Table of Knowledge” where local sages eat breakfast and dinner, conversation erupted Thursday as word rapidly spread that there was a development in the case.
“Hopefully we’ll get some peace today, and we’re really excited to hopefully put this chapter behind us,” Andy Paulk said hours before the GBI’s news conference. “It’s something that affected a lot of people in Irwin County in a negative way.”
Grinstead’s former students have graduated high school and college and are raising their own families since the former beauty queen was last seen Oct. 22, 2005.
That Saturday afternoon, she helped backstage at the Miss Georgia Sweet Potato pageant in Fitzgerald before attending a cookout at the former school superintendent’s house.
What happened next has been the speculation of sleuths on TV crime dramas and interview programs hosted by attorneys.
Former CNN Headline News anchor Nancy Grace and former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren featured the cold case over the years.
Thursday morning, as the locals discussed the case over the hum of traffic at the juncture of U.S. 319 and U.S. 129, one of them asked another, “Did they swab you?”
“Yeah, they swabbed me,” his friend replied, as speculation turned to the rumored arrest of a suspect.
“I hope it’s nobody I know,” lifelong Ocilla resident Walter Hudson said.
Grinstead started working at Irwin County High School right after she graduated college.
Paulk was at the school for the first of multiple searches that began in 2005.
He spearheaded some of the local efforts to find Grinstead.
“I think it’s one of the largest ground searches in the state of Georgia history,” said Paulk, who knew of someone from North Dakota who traveled to Georgia to help.
Paulk’s ex-wife ran websites soliciting tips and clues as the case grew colder.
He believes one of those leads might have led to this week’s development.
Folks were eager to hear the latest, but feared it would be more bad news
“It’s been very tragic for the community, but today, hopefully, it’ll give some closure,” Hudson said. “Either way it’s going to be bad. If it’s somebody we know, it’s a bad situation because it will be another tragedy.”
Hudson, who has lived in this Irwin County seat for 62 years, said the community is forever scarred.
“It never goes away. Never will go away,” Hudson said. “It will still be with all of us.”