Reward Fund grows in Tara Gladden Case Family,friends solicit donations

August 30, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Wrtiter

About 40 friends and relatives of Tara Gladden spent Saturday soliciting donations from drivers along Little Patuxent Parkway, hoping the lure of a sizable reward will help police find the teen-age girl's killer.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the group approached vehicles stopped at traffic lights along a four-block stretch. As vans, trucks, Corvettes and family station wagons drove by, the volunteers would run through traffic with their pails and ask for money. At times, they were lured by horn-blowing motorists with handfuls of dollars or coins.

The group also set up a booth at nearby Columbia Mall.

The larger the Tara Gladden Reward Fund, the more likely people with clues to her death will come forward with information, said Tara's father, John Gladden. "Money talks. Somebody's got to know something. We've got to find out who did this."

Fifteen-year-old Tara's nude and decomposed body was found in a culvert in a wooded area at Vantage Point Road and Little Patuxent Parkway Aug. 17.

So far, searches have turned up a set of keys, jewelry and clothing belonging to Tara, but few other clues, police said. The state medical examiner's office still has not determined a cause of death.

Tara was reported missing July 22.

Mr. Gladden provided refreshments to many of Tara's high school friends yesterday, warning them about traffic dangers and dehydration in the humid weather.

The volunteers covered Owen Brown Road, Twin Rivers Road, Vantage Point Road and Dobbin Road. By the end of the afternoon, they had collected nearly $4,000, increasing the reward fund to about $17,000.

On Aug. 22, volunteers collected about $3,100, including 1,100 one-dollar bills, from motorists.

Many contributors had read about the Gladden family's efforts in the newspapers. Some were tourists, others were neighbors who just wanted to lend a hand.

"Being a neighbor, it scares me to think that these things can happen and go unsolved," said one woman, who lives nearby in the 5400 block of Smooth Meadow Way. She had just dropped a $10 bill into a volunteer's bucket.

"It's unfortunate," said Sri Rajan,17, as he made a donation before crossing Little Patuxent Parkway on his bike from Vantage Point Road. "I never thought this could happen in Columbia. It seemed like a safe community."

Tara would have returned to Atholton High School today, a junior athlete excited about this coming soccer season. She would have turned 16 Aug. 16, the day before her body was found.

Tara's friends are anxious to see her killer found. They said they hope their effort pays off. "It's bad enough they did this to my best friend," said Krissan Wallace. "But I don't want this to happen to any other kids."

"It's the least I can do," said Mindy Fitzgibbon, 18, a friend of Tara's brother, Shawn. "It breaks your heart to see something like this happen. The family deserves to know who did this."

Tara's uncle, Wallace Lookingland Jr. of Aberdeen, hailed cars in the hot sun at Vantage Point Road, with few breaks.

He said he still has not come to terms with Tara's death.

"You feel a strong feeling of depression because there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

John Gladden said his family never believed Tara would be found dead. "We thought somebody was holding her or she was being manipulated by somebody," he said, adding the 27 hours his family waited for the medical examiner to determine whether the body was Tara's "felt like the end of the world."

The family began their search for Tara weeks before she was found. Her mother, Johanna, and grandmother, Dee, circulated posters throughout the Howard County, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

Dee Gladden had even consulted a psychic to determine the whereabouts of her granddaughter. The psychic said Tara was being held by someone against her will.

Mr. Gladden said he and a private investigator had searched the woods where Tara was eventually found for some clues, looking within 100 yards of where the body was found.

"I've got this empty void in my life now. My wife and I are still numb. We're still waking up and hoping it was a dream. Mornings are still very tough for us."

Family members said anyone who wants to send contributions to the reward fund can mail a check to: The Tara Gladden Reward Fund, c/o Signet Bank, Town Center, Columbia 21044.

Anyone with information about Tara's disappearance or death, or anyone who has been in the wooded area or culvert between July 22 and Aug. 17, should call Howard County police at 313-2266.

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