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Web site gets tips about unsolved killing

By Ed Brock

The passage of three years has in no way dulled the pain for the family of homicide victim Tara Baker of Lovejoy.

But a new Web site is bringing them some consolation and new information on Baker's death.

"We have gotten more tips on that than we've gotten all along," said Baker's mother Virginia Baker.

On Jan. 19, 2001, 23-year-old Tara Baker was a University of Georgia law student when she was killed inside her Athens apartment house. The killer also set fire to the apartment. Firefighters responding to the fire call discovered Baker's body within.

There has been little progress in the case, Clark-Athens Police Sgt. Mike Tyndell said, though the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also helping out. And Tyndell said so far he hasn't received useful information from the Web site, www.tarabaker.com.

"But I see it has some potential benefit," Tyndell said.

Meanwhile Virginia Baker and her husband Lindsay Baker and the rest of their family remain frustrated by the lack of progress in the case. Virginia and Lindsay Baker said they don't think police follow up enough on the leads they provide.

"I don't care if somebody's just blowing smoke or not, everything needs to be checked out," Lindsay Baker said.

Tyndell said they do follow up on the leads they get.

There are few clues. A man was seen running in the area near the apartment around the time of the fire, but Tyndell said the man was running in a large common area and he may have had nothing to do with the case. Tara's laptop was taken but that doesn't mean there was information on the computer that connected the killer to Tara because it's also an item that's easy to sell on the streets.

"It wouldn't be unusual for a stranger to take that item," Tyndell said.

The GBI primarily serves as a "resource multiplier" in the case, said Fred Stephens, Special Agent in Charge of the GBI office in Athens. Stephens was pleased to see the creation of the Web site though he has not yet been given information from the site.

"I think it's a positive step forward," Stephens said.

But along with the information gathering potential of the sight, it also gives those who knew Tara Baker a chance to post their memories of her and show support for the family.

"It's basically a chronology of Tara's life which basically comes to an abrupt end with a tombstone," Lindsay Baker said.

The letters on the Web site come from friends of the family to people who never met Tara Baker personally.

"I have heard so much about Tara and what a wonderful person she was," wrote Chad D. Franks, staff attorney for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. "I cannot begin to comprehend the pain your family must be feeling, but I hope that you are able to take some comfort in knowing that there are people who care."

That kind of response is one reason why Tara Baker's uncle Matthew Patrie of College Park put the Web site together.

"It's very therapeutic to get all the letters from people," Patrie said. "It's a way I can take care of her now that she's gone."

So far the site has had around 164,000 hits in two months. Patrie updates it everyday.

The site also allows well-wishers to make contributions to a scholarship fund in Tara Baker's name and to an award fund for information on her killer.

And the site has a letter to that unknown person who took the young girl's life, a letter written by Patrie and members of the family.

"In a moment of time, something in that defective brain of yours decided to proceed with an act of sheer brutality and utter contempt," the letter says. "Just remember, if you do get away with this, and no other person knows what you have done ? somewhere down the road, here or in the afterlife, you will pay. Maybe not by human hands, but you will get what you deserve."