Tara Gladden is buried amid tears, memories and terrible uncertainty

August 24, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

As Tara Allison Gladden was laid to rest yesterday morning, medical officials and Howard County police were still unsure what caused her death.

The 15-year-old whose family and friends in Columbia knew her as a "quiet and shy girl who liked to laugh," was buried at a Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium yesterday after Catholic funeral services in Columbia. Her coffin was topped with white and pink roses.

Inside the Meeting House, an interfaith center in the Village of Oakland Mills, more than 400 friends and neighbors gathered.

Family members talked of Tara's vibrant yet reserved nature. Her grandmother, Dee Gladden, remembered her as a "red rose ready to bloom."

"Tara and I were so close," Mrs. Gladden said. "The hole in my heart will never heal."

The wooded area where a dog search team took about 45 minutes last Tuesday to find Tara's body was cordoned off again yesterday.

Near the intersection of Little Patuxent Parkway and Vantage Point Road, 14 county police recruits meticulously searched for evidence in the woods near where Tara's nude and partially decomposed body was found in a culvert Aug. 17, the day after what would have been the girl's 16th birthday.

Tara would have been a junior at Atholton High School in the fall. She had been missing since July 22.

In the grassy median of Little Patuxent Parkway, above the culvert that runs under the busy thoroughfare, a member of the girl's family had placed a white, 3-foot wooden cross decorated with roses. It says, "Remember . . . Tara."

The Gladden family placed the cross at the site over the weekend, hoping to generate donations to a reward fund that they hope will produce information about the girl's death.

Police hope that by searching the area again that they may turn up some missing piece to aid their investigation, or help the state medical examiner's office complete its autopsy report.

Officials so far have not ruled Tara's death a homicide, but they have not determined how or when the girl died.

Previous searches had turned up jewelry and keys belonging to Tara, police said.

"We don't know the whole story behind her death," said police spokesman Sgt. Gary Gardner. "So we don't know what's missing."

In eulogies from those who knew her, Tara was recalled as a teen-ager who loved animals, dancing, swimming and playing soccer, a young "life cut short by a senseless crime."

"I'm going to miss her," said Shawn Gladden, Tara's 19-year-old brother.

"She was the only little sister I had. I'll never forget her."

The parents, John Scott and Johanna Gladden, wept silently as others paid tribute to their daughter.

"I won't forget Tara or her wonderful personality," said Krissan Wallace, a friend and neighbor who yesterday recalled sharing clothes and making shopping trips. "There were some very happy moments we have shared together."

"I have 15 1/2 years of great memories of Tara," said her uncle, Shane Gladden. "You were the light of my life."

"Please know your death was not in vain," he said. "There'll be no happiness in my life until your death is avenged."

Police said they are still ruling Tara's death as suspicious, but have no suspects in the case. Some family members think she was murdered.

On Aug. 17, nearly a month after Tara had disappeared, a body was found less than five minutes from the Gladden home in the 5600 block of Vantage Point Road and it would be identified as Tara's.

Until then, family members had posted notices with Tara's picture on utility poles and bulletin boards in Columbia, Washington and Baltimore and had handed out the fliers to cabdrivers, mall employees and hotel clerks throughout the area.

Last week family members warned other parents that their children, too, are vulnerable to tragedy.

David Harbis, a lawyer and friend who represents the Gladdens, said anyone with information about Tara's disappearance or death -- "no matter how insignificant it may seem" -- should call Howard County police at 313-2266.

"This is a family in mourning, a community in mourning," Mr. Harbis said.

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