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'Her life was a total hell': How Tara Grinstead's disappearance destroyed her mother

Still image from Tara Grinstead's final performance at an Irwin County High School talent show. (Courtesy Anita Gattis)

HAWKINSVILLE, Ga. (WGXA) - Barbara Woodward was Faye Grinstead's best friend. She was forced to watch her go through the worst experience of her life - the disappearance of her daughter Tara.

Tara, a high school teacher and former beauty queen, vanished from her Ocilla, Georgia home in October 2005.

"Watching her suffer and imagining all the horrible things that could have happened to Tara, her life was just a total hell during that time," Woodward said of Faye's experience following Tara's disappearance.

It was a hell that kept Faye trapped inside her home.

"She would not leave her house at least. It might have been the first few months because she was afraid Tara would call her," Woodward said. "She knew that if Tara was being held or whatever and she could get away, that Faye would be the one she could call and she would not leave her house for anything during that time."

But together, along with Faye's oldest daughter Anita, they coped by talking.

"She would talk to me a lot, mainly about where could Tara be, what could have happened to her, who would have done something like this," Woodward said.

Another way Faye coped was by watching Tara's old pageant and performance videos, specifically a video of Tara's final performance - singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" at the Irwin County High School talent show.

"And we watched one, I remember, of Tara and some guy at the school performing in the gym not long before that happened. And listening to Tara sing and they were both singing and she was so good. And Faye would just sit there and go over all that, just back over it," Woodward said.

A short time later, Faye's health declined. After being in remission for several years, her cancer came back in full force. Faye succumbed to her disease without ever finding out what happened to Tara and with that, Woodward lost her best friend.

Now, more than 11 years later, Woodward's family finds comfort in their own memories of Faye and Tara, especially Tara's special bond with Woodward's son, Tracey, born with Down syndrome. Woodward said they are comforted by their belief that mother and daughter are now back together.

On Feb. 23, more than a decade after Tara's disappearance, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that it finally had enough information to make an arrest in her case. Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, a former student of the high school where Tara taught, was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing a death.

Ten days later, Duke's former friend Bo Dukes was arrested and charged with concealing a death, hindering the apprehension of a criminal, and tampering with evidence. His arrest warrant states that he helped destroy Tara's body.

Although following Duke's arrest the Georgia Bureau of Investigation centered its search on a pecan orchard in Irwin County, authorities have not yet indicated whether her body has been found.

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