Anita Gattis, shown in a 2006 file photo, said she has never stopped praying for her sister, Tara Grinstead. (AJC file)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Grinstead’s sister: ‘Why Tara? Why did he pick Tara?’

Every night since her sister disappeared more than 11 years ago, Anita Gattis has prayed for her. Pictures of Tara Grinstead in her beauty queen crown are still in her home.

And though she’s relieved that investigators have arrested the man believed responsible for killing Grinstead, Gattis said it’s still hard to believe. In an interview with Channel 2 Action News, Gattis said she has never stopped grieving.

Channel 2's Tony Thomas reports

“This ripped the scab off wounds that have never totally healed and it’s like it is totally infected now,” Gattis said.

Last week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced an arrest in the case that made national headlines beginning in October 2005. Ryan Alexander Duke, 32, was charged with murder, burglary, aggravated assault and concealing a death.

Duke was a 2002 graduate of Irwin County High School, where Grinstead taught history. A tipster recently pointed investigators to Duke, the GBI said.

“I’d never heard of him,” Gattis said.

While it’s not clear what the relationship was between Grinstead and Duke, it’s likely the two knew each other. Gattis said she’s been told local police interviewed Duke in the days after her sister’s disappearance, but he was released.

On Wednesday, investigators continued to search a Ben Hill County pecan farm where Grinstead’s body may have been taken. Because of a gag order in the case, the GBI is prohibited from discussing the investigation.

Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, was arrested and charged with murder in the death of Tara Grinstead. (Photo: GBI)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The farm, Gattis said, is one she has driven by hundreds of times while making trips from her home in Hawkinsville to Ocilla. It’s hard to imagine that investigators are combing through dirt in search of her sister’s remains, she said.

“What I feel and what I’m suffering right now is nothing compared to what Tara suffered,” Gattis said.

If given the chance, Gattis said she’d simply like to ask Duke — if he’s convicted in the death — why he did it.

“I just want to know, ‘Why Tara? Why did he pick Tara?’” Gattis said.

» RELATED: From 2006: One year later, missing teacher mystifies town

» RELATED: From 2007: Tara Grinstead case garners attention, few clues

The investigation continues, but additional details will be harder to obtain with the gag order in place. Late Tuesday, a judge signed the order preventing law enforcement from discussing the Grinstead case. Potential witnesses, court personnel and family members of both Grinstead and her alleged killer are all prohibited from making statements about the case, the order states.

“Because this case is high-profile and has generated extensive media coverage, and because the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial may be prejudiced by extra-judicial statements, the court has considered and weighed the issue and hereby finds that there is a reasonable likelihood the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury may be prejudiced by extra judicial statements,” Superior Court Judge Melanie Cross wrote in the order.

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