Three decades after 9-year-old Michaela Garecht was kidnapped off a California street in broad daylight, police say they have matched a palm print left on her scooter to her killer—a man who has been in prison nearly as long for three other murders.
The breakthrough, which investigators say was made possible by new technology for print comparison, was announced Monday at a press conference where Hayward Police Chief Toney Chaplin read a gut-wrenching statement from Michaela’s grateful but grieving mother.
“In the last year, I had come to a place of accepting that Michaela was probably no longer alive,” Sharon Murch, who was recently diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, wrote.
“But somehow, that acceptance was far more wrapped up in the idea of Michaela sitting on fluffy pink clouds, walking streets of gold, dancing on grassy hills, soaring among the stars. What I did not envision was my daughter as a dead child.
“It was only when I heard this news that this vision of reality appeared, and I honestly have not figured out what to do with it. A chill set in that had nothing to do with the snow outside my home in southwest Iowa. I feel as though I am still looking for Michaela, but now I don’t know where. I honestly feel lost in the dark.”
Michaela was abducted on Nov. 19, 1988. She and a friend had ridden their scooters to the Rainbow Grocery in their Bay Area town and gone inside to buy snacks. When they came out, one of the scooters had been moved to a space behind a parked car.
When Michaela walked over to get it, the driver ambushed her, forced her into the car, and sped away. She has never been found.
Her mother never stopped pushing police to keep looking for her daughter or the kidnapper, and they say they never did. But around the 30th anniversary of the abduction, they kicked the investigation into high gear and went over all the evidence, leads, and witnesses.
That placed a man named David Misch at the scene, police said. And his name, along with names of other persons of interest, was given to Hayward’s fingerprint examiner for comparison against a print lifted from the scooter.
“She was able to match Misch’s fingerprints to those on the scooter. Their ability now to compare prints has been significantly advanced through software, technology and science,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement.
It was easy to track down Misch. He’s been in prison serving 18 years to life for the 1989 murder of a woman. He is also awaiting trial for the 1986 double murder of best friends Michelle Xavier, 18, and Jennifer Duey, 20, who disappeared after a birthday part in Fremont and whose nude bodies were found later on the side of a road.
O’Malley has now charged Misch, 59, with kidnapping and murder in Michaela’s case.
“This crime shocked not just the local community but the entire Bay Area and the nation,” O’Malley said. “I hope that today’s action and announcement will provide some comfort to Michaela’s family in knowing that justice will prevail, even after 32 years since this horrible crime.”
Murch, on her blog dedicated to Michaela, called Misch “a monster.”
“Seriously what drives a human being to do something like this? What even enables him to?” she asked.
The news that he had been identified as the alleged killer had left Murch feeling “as though I am wandering around lost,” she wrote.
“I am looking, looking again for the answers I thought I had found, but all I can find right now is emptiness. 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. 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.”
She finished her entry with a heartbreaking apology to her child.
“And to Michaela, I am so so so sorry baby girl. I feel as though I let you down in a million ways. I was listening to Rescue by Lauren Daigle yesterday. This has been my song for you, and I broke down because I had not been able to rescue you, because I had never ever been able to rescue you.
“I wonder if God can rescue me? I am trying to hold onto what has kept me going for awhile now, and that is that I know you are a bright and shining light. You were a light to all who knew you when you were here in the world, and you have been a light even to strangers beyond number since you have been gone. I will, we will, try to keep that light shining for you.”