She sat at her kitchen table and watched the Hayward police detective hold up a photograph over Zoom of a man she did not recognize.
And then it happened. After 32 years, Sharon Murch, the anguished mother of missing 9-year-old Michaela Joy Garecht, got an answer.
Its very hard for us to tell you this, she recalled Detective Robert Purnell telling her Dec. 10 from the small box on her laptop screen. We dont know where she is, but weve IDd the man who took her.
There was a pause.
I had the phone in one hand and my mouth hanging open, Murch said in a phone interview with The Chronicle. I never thought her case would be solved.
Alameda County prosecutors must still prove the case is solved. But on Monday, they and Hayward police officials announced they had charged David Misch with murdering the girl, who was abducted from a supermarket parking lot in 1988 and never seen again.
Misch is serving a prison sentence for murdering 36-year-old Margaret Ball in her Hayward home in 1989. In 2018, he was charged with an unsolved Fremont double homicide the 1986 killings of Michelle Xavier, 18, and 20-year-old Jennifer Duey and was taken to Santa Rita Jail to await trial. That investigation led them to probe his possible involvement in Michaelas disappearance.
While Michaelas body has never been found, police said evidence and Mischs history as an alleged serial killer indicate she is dead. It is a sad reality that her mother has begrudgingly accepted since she learned his identity.
What he does is he rapes and he murders people, Murch said. He doesnt kidnap kids to find a good home for them.
Mischs arraignment was delayed Tuesday, but his attorney, Ernie Castillo, said his client denies the allegations against him and will fight these charges.
No one in his family believes David would hurt or kill a child, Castillo said, adding that he would investigate the case to establish that David is not involved in Michaelas disappearance.
The arrest provided a respite for Murch in what has been a turbulent year. Her husband lost his job with Union Pacific in November 2019, which forced a move out of California to a more affordable small town in Iowa.
In May, she learned her breast cancer had returned and that it had spread. There was no cure. A frightening diagnosis, but nothing is so clear cut when youre a mother who has lived through so much pain.
When I found out it was metastatic breast cancer, not to sound maudlin, but I thought to myself, maybe Ill get to see Michaela soon, she said.
It was Nov. 19, 1988, when Michaela and her friend Trina rode scooters to the Rainbow Market in Hayward to buy candy and sodas. She had her own scooter, but wanted to borrow Trinas brothers scooter so they could match.
While the girls were in the store, Misch, now 59, moved one of the scooters to the back of the parking lot to avoid attention, police said. He grabbed Michaela into his car, they said. She screamed. And she was gone.
It turned out a palm print on the borrowed scooter would break the case open after investigators matched it to Misch, police said Monday.
The disappearance, sandwiched between other high-profile abductions of young Bay Area girls, devastated Murch and her family. She and her husband Rodney Garecht divorced a year after the abduction. She took leave from her work and became overly protective of her other children, two boys and two girls.
For years, Murch continued buying gifts for Michaela, or Kayla as she was called. She bought a Barbie doll in a cap and gown for what would have been her daughters high school graduation, a childrens story, I Promise Ill Find You for her 18th birthday, and a parakeet the next year.
She started a blog. She would write posts to her daughter.
Michaela, I am still looking for you, Murch wrote in 2018. Although the case may be woven into that fact, however, solving it is not what I am looking for. I am not looking for the kidnapper. I am not wanting to know what happened. I have to tell you the honest truth, Michaela, if you are not alive, I am not sure I actually want to know that. The thought of it all starting up over again chills me.
She would offer tips to Michaela on how to escape if she was alive and held against her will. How to contact authorities. Shed send her daughter updates with photos of grandchildren. Some reminded her of Michaela as a newborn, she wrote.
Anyway, what I am telling you here is that if you hurry home there will be a cuddly new baby for you to hold! she wrote.
In recent years, Murch said she didnt want to hear from police until they had a resolution. Otherwise, it was too hard.
It is a little bit of hell on earth, and I have roasted on that pit for far too long, she wrote in a post.
She signed each blog entry with mom.
As years turned into decades, Murch read the headlines. Golden State Killer captured. Dozens of seemingly hopeless cold cases suddenly solved through pioneering DNA evidence. But her case had no DNA. Few witnesses even.
That didnt stop the speculation. Her blog invited web sleuths who pestered her for years, floating theories and suspect names. You guys just need to give it a rest, shed think.
And then Detective Purnell called Dec. 10 and asked if he could fly out to talk to her in person. She had coronavirus concerns and told him shed prefer to just do a Zoom call. Plus, she couldnt wait days for a plane trip. The news left her feeling lost, she wrote days later.
There has been this really big feeling that has been rolling around inside me, creating a giant hole, and just this morning I figured out what it is, she wrote. It is a feeling that my daughter has been alone for these 32 years. While I was running around doing interviews, writing blogs, tying ribbons on trees, she was lying cold and alone.
More than 11,000 well-wishers jumped onto her blog in the hours after the police announced the arrest. She responded to every comment, most with a heart emoji.
Its moments like these in which Murch is glad she left California. She found a sense of peace with the move, similar to how she felt when she left Hayward for Castro Valley.
I can walk down the street tomorrow and no one will mob me and want to congratulate me and give me hugs. Id be getting COVID! she said with a laugh.
She often finds herself singing the Cheers theme song, except with her own modified line of Where no one knows your name.
Shed spent years trying to keep Michaelas story in the news, talking to media, hosting remembrances. Experts say that can help solve a case. But for Murch and other parents of missing kids, it forces a constant reliving of their darkest hours and a loss of privacy.
But shes quick to brush away any pity I am not missing, Michaela was the one who was missing.
On Monday, despite feeling tired from cancer treatments and emotionally spent from the news, she fielded calls from well-wishers and media, baring her soul yet again. She was repeatedly asked if she wanted to say something to Misch. She didnt think she did.
But, I actually do want to say to him, You are nothing, she said. You are not important enough to kill. You are less than a man.
Murch said she doesnt believe in the death penalty. She saves flies from drowning in her coffee mug, she said.
I definitely want him to spend the rest of his life in prison, she said. I dont want him to hurt anyone else.
She knows there are other victims of Misch who deserve a say in his potential sentence like the two young women hes suspected of killing but shes more concerned about finding her daughters body.
I would definitely prioritize that, she said.
With the remains still a mystery, Hayward police have offered few details about the case. The detective who broke the news to Murch called the development bittersweet.
Im happy to give some semblance of closure to the family, and I remain hopeful that Mr. Misch will eventually lead us to Michaelas body, Purnell said.
The trial could take years. Murch doubted shell attend court hearings.
I have to see how things are, Murch said. I have to see how our bank account is.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the news conference, Murch crunched her boots through the half-melted snow outside her house and drove with her youngest daughter Johnna to yet another cancer treatment. After she kicked the disease the first time, she got a tattoo on her forearm. A J.R.R. Tolkien quote: Still round the corner there may wait a new road or secret gate.
Murch said her lobular carcinoma is not curable.
You go through one treatment and then another, she said. You just keep going.
She posted on her blog shortly after the press announcement Michaelas case has been solved.
She wrote how she felt like she let Michaela down. She wasnt able to rescue her. She said she takes solace knowing the bright and shining light her daughter brought to the world. She wants to keep that light shining.
I love you forever, baby girl. Rest well, she wrote. I have some things to do here yet, but I will see you in the not terribly distant future. mom.
Matthias Gafni is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @mgafni
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