The murder of a 15-year-old Columbia girl has led to a crusade by her family -- to answer the mystery of how she died and who killed her.
Police acknowledged for the first time yesterday that they are treating Tara Allison Gladden's death as a homicide.
And one day after burying Tara, her survivors announced the creation of a fund in her name, money they hope will be an attractive reward for anyone with information about her death or disappearance July 22.
"We desperately need all the help we can get at this point," said Shane Gladden, Tara's uncle."Finding the person or persons involved in her death. . . . I can't stop until that happens."
When Tara's body was found Aug. 17 in a culvert beneath Little Patuxent Parkway near her home, police would only classify her death as "suspicious."
But yesterday, Sgt. Gary Gardner, a police spokesman, said: "Based on the circumstances as far as the body being found unclothed and the location of the body, we're investigating it as a murder."
Police will not say if they have suspects or if anyone has been questioned in the case.
Sergeant Gardner said that police have progressed in their investigation in the past few days with the help of a state police search team and a volunteer search dog team.
On Saturday, police found some of Tara's clothing, among other items, in the wooded area near where her nude and partially decomposed body was discovered near Vantage Point Road early last week.
Police said yesterday that the inability of the state medical examiner's office to determine a cause of death has hindered their investigation.
Final autopsy results are not expected for several weeks, Sgt. Gardner said.
In three to four hours Sunday, about 30 family members and friends working along Little Patuxent Parkway gathered more than $3,000 from motorists and other donors for the Tara Gladden Fund.
So far, the fund has a base of $12,500, and it is growing, they said. They are distributing T-shirts with a photograph of Tara and the words "Remember . . . The Tara Gladden Fund."
"Tara would have been very proud of what everybody is doing for her. She's looking down on us now," said her father, John Scott Gladden.
"We're going to remember the happy times," he said. "We're holding on.
"We have a lot of rough days ahead of us."
On Saturday, the Gladdens plan to organize along Little Patuxent Parkway to collect more donations for the reward fund.
They are hoping to attract as many as 100 volunteers, including Tara's high school friends or others concerned about violent crime.
Volunteers can call Shane Gladden at 581-7722.
Donations to the reward fund should be sent to The Tara Gladden Fund, c/o Signet Bank, Town Center, Columbia, MD. 21044.
Sergeant Gardner said anyone who was in the area between July 22 and Aug. 17 or anyone with any information regarding Tara's disappearance or death should call Howard County police at 313-2266.