A volunteer search team with dogs looking for a missing 16-year-old Columbia girl yesterday morning found the nude body of a female in a culvert under Little Patuxent Parkway, about a quarter-mile from the Mall in Columbia, Howard County police said.
Police could not confirm whether the badly decomposed body was that of Tara Gladden, who has been missing since July 22.
The body, which was not immediately identified because of its condition, was found in a wooded area not far from Tara's home in the 5600 block of Vantage Point Road.
Pieces of jewelry also were found at the scene, but police could not say if they belonged to Tara.
"It's a possibility it's her, but we're not certain," said Sgt. Gary Gardner, a police spokesman.
This morning, the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore is expected to announce an identification of the body and the cause of death, police said.
Discovery of the body was a further blow to members of Tara's family, who have intensified the search for the missing girl in recent weeks. "I'm scared to death. It's unbelievable," said Dee Gladden, Tara's grandmother. "She's the only granddaughter I have."
Mrs. Gladden happened upon the police scene before noon yesterday as she headed for Tara's home.
As of last week, police were still unsure of Tara's whereabouts and were unwilling to discuss the possibility of foul play in connection with her disappearance.
Tara was discovered missing from her home one Thursday afternoon nearly four weeks ago.
Family members said they doubted the girl had run away because none of her personal belongings had been taken.
On Aug. 3, police questioned Tara's former boyfriend, Curtis Jamison, 28, of the 3300 block of Oakfield Ave., Baltimore, who turned himself in on two warrants.
Mr. Jamison was charged with assault and a fourth-degree sexual offense for his relations with Tara, who was 14 at the time their relationship began. He also was charged with second-degree rape and assault for his relations with a 12-year-old female neighbor of Tara's.
Mr. Jamison, who said at the time he did not know where Tara was, faced similar charges in April when he was arrested by Baltimore police in the second-degree rape of a Baltimore girl.
On Monday, Tara's birthday and the 26th day since her disappearance, police sought the assistance of Mid-Atlantic DOGS Inc., a Rockville-based volunteer dog search team.
The four dogs and four handlers involved in the search divided a designated area of the woods into sectors, walking back and forth, supervised by a police detective.
About 8:15 a.m. yesterday, the search team found the body lying in a quarter-inch of water in the culvert under Little Patuxent Parkway, said police Cpl. Kevin Costello.
"It was very disappointing and sad," said dog handler Bob Sessions, who led the search crew. "It's the last thing you want to find."