Jim Connell sent a drone up Wednesday over a pecan farm the GBI was combing for the remains of Tara Grinstead.
Grinstead, a 30-year-old Irwin County High School history teacher and former beauty queen, vanished from her Ocilla home more than 11 years ago.
Last week, the GBI arrested 33-year-old Ryan Duke, a former student, in her disappearance and charged him with murder, burglary, aggravated assault and concealing a death. Arrest warrants indicated he used his hands in the assault.
“Everybody (here) is shocked and depressed, like in Ocilla,” said Connell, who didn’t know Grinstead personally but knew of her. “She was a sweet girl. ... I just feel sorry for the family.”
Connell, a retired construction worker from Fitzgerald, said he went to high school about 30 years ago with Duke’s parents, who later divorced. He hasn’t kept in contact.
“They were really good people,” said Connell, who did not know their son personally.
Curious, Connell said he sent his drone up 200 to 250 feet over the pecan farm located on Bowens Mill Highway on the outskirts of Fitzgerald in Ben Hill County.
“I just tried to get a picture of what’s going on,” he said. “I didn’t want to get close because I didn’t want to be too intrusive.”
Authorities appeared to search the north to southwest corner of the pecan farm, Connell said. That area is not visible from the road, and a sheriff’s deputy kept guard over the property.
The GBI told media outlets Tuesday that Grinstead’s remains may have been disposed of at the pecan farm. Shortly after that announcement, a judge issued a gag order in the case, preventing further comments to media.
Authorities previously said Grinstead was likely killed in her West Park Street home in Ocilla and her body moved elsewhere.
The pecan farm where the search is taking place belongs to Randy Hudson, owner of Hudson Pecan Company in Ocilla.
“At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the Grinstead family,” Hudson said Wednesday. “We’re fully cooperating with the GBI and the local sheriff’s agency in this investigation.
“At this time, there is really nothing more that I could say or can say in regards to that. ... In the future, when all those that are involved are prosecuted and receive due judgment, which I hope they do and will do, then we will have additional comments that we can make at that time.”
Authorities got a long-awaited break in the case when someone came forward recently with a tip that led to Duke’s arrest.
The GBI has not ruled out the possibility of other arrests.