The Gladden family had a reunion of sorts: Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends greeted one another with hugs and kisses.
John and Johanna Gladden circulated Friday through the group that included Howard County police officers and Columbia Foundation officials, making sure everyone felt welcome and comfortable.
But the smiles and chatter could not hide the absence of the person who brought them together. The crowd gathered to establish the Tara Gladden Memorial Fund on what would have been the teen-ager's 19th birthday.
"I still wake up and think she's still alive," said her brother, Shawn Gladden. "I don't think that will ever go away."
Tara Allison Gladden was found murdered Aug. 17, 1993 -- three years ago yesterday -- in a culvert under Columbia's Little Patuxent Parkway after a monthlong search. Five months later, a Baltimore man, Curtis Aden Jamison, then 28, was charged with killing the 15-year-old so she wouldn't tell police about their sexual relationship. He was convicted of her murder last October and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Though the memorial fund will provide some closure for the Gladdens, they say Tara's death will always be a part of their lives. And they want to help others who face similar situations.
"We hope to help other parents whose kids are missing," Johanna Gladden said. "We think our experience can help other people."
She said Tara's death should remind parents to act on their instincts if they sense something wrong with their children.
"I ignored my feelings at first, but then I had to go find out," she said. "If you feel something is wrong, chances are there is something wrong.
"Kids at that age do more with their peers and have more influences outside the home, and that creates a barrier. Parents have to break that wall down, or things like what happened to Tara will continue to happen."
When Tara's parents discovered her relationship with Jamison, now 31, they changed their phone number and home alarm code xTC without telling her, sent her to visit relatives in California and never left her at home alone -- all in an effort to prevent Jamison from contacting their daughter.
But on July 22, 1993 -- the first day she was home alone -- she disappeared. Friends and neighbors scoured the area. Many people thought she had run away from home, including her family.
When police arrived Aug. 17 to inform the Gladdens that a girl's body had been found, John Gladden said he didn't believe it was Tara. "I wondered why they were telling us this. We believed that wherever she was, she was still alive," he said.
"The fact that she wasn't alive was not even a thought," Shawn Gladden said. "And she was less than a mile away."
The memorial fund, started with the $22,776 in reward money gathered to help search for Tara and, later, to help convict her killer, will be administered through the Columbia Foundation.
Family attorney David Harvis presented $1,000 each to Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S., the nonprofit dog search team that found Tara's body, and to the Howard County police program Cops as Peers, a mentoring program for at-risk teen-agers. "We received checks from all over, even for as little as $5," Mrs. Gladden said. "Now we can let people know where the money went."
William and Geraldine Falk, neighbors who identified Jamison arguing with Tara before she disappeared, received money from the reward fund but returned it because they did not want to profit from the Gladdens' tragedy.
"I could not comfortably take money from someone who was murdered," Mrs. Falk said. "I wanted it to be [the Gladdens] who decided what to do with it. Hopefully it gives them some peace."
The remainder of the money will continue to fund the search dog and police programs, as well as others that provide mentoring and counseling for youths in Howard County.
Mrs. Gladden said the family's grieving will never end.
"We're lucky to be able to allow her name to go on," she said. "But you don't just stop grieving after four or five years -- it's lifelong."
Pub Date: 8/18/96