Although it's been 23 years since her daughter was abducted, Sharon Murch said she has not given up hope that Michaela Joy Garecht is still alive and out there.
"Hope is a funny thing," said Murch. "I think I probably have more hope now than I ever did before."
When Jaycee Dugard was found after being kept in captivity for 18 years, Murch thinks a similar reunion with her daughter is highly possible.
"If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere," she said.
But until that day comes, the Castro Valley mother said she will do all she can to keep the Michaela's memory alive through Facebook pages, a personal blog and memorial events such as the one being held this Saturday at the kidnapping site.
"The one thing I consistently try to do is reach out to Michaela as if she's out there," Murch said.
Never Forget Nov. 19
On the morning of November, 19, 1988, 9-year-old Michaela was grabbed by a man and thrown into the back of a car parked outside of Hayward's former Rainbow Market (now called Mexico Super) at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Lafeyette Avenue.
Her friend was the only witness of the abduction.
She described the kidnapper as a 6-foot-tall, slender white male with shoulder-length dirty blond hair and a pock-marked complexion. He was thought to be in his late teens or early 20s.
The suspect was last seen speeding down Mission Boulevard toward Union City with Michaela in the car.
The case has received worldwide attention from the media and was featured on "Unsolved Mysteries," "America's Most Wanted" (as the first missing child case in the late 1980s) and numerous other television shows and news reports.
Over the years, Hayward Police received thousands of leads in the case. Murch said the station has five filing cabinets full of evidence in a room they dubbed "the Michaela room."
"It's not been a lack of information but trying to get organized and through the information we already have," she said.
Murch said for a while, Dugard's abductors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido, were strong suspects in Michaela's case since both girls, similar in appearance, were kidnapped at around the same age in such close proximity.
However, the Garridos were recently eliminated as suspects, according to Murch, after no evidence was found linking them to Michaela's disappearance.
Twenty-Three Years of Missing Michaela
Michaela was the oldest of Murch's six children. After waiting five years to initially get pregnant, Murch said she never wanted to leave Michaela's side.
"I never once left her to cry herself to sleep despite how people told me to," Murch said. "I never wanted her to feel alone or abandoned. That's why I feel this is so unfair."
Murch said when she was in labor with her youngest daughter, Johnna, missing children were being shown on a television program in the hospital room. Just as she gave birth, she saw Michaela's picture smiling down at her.
"What it means, I don't know," said Murch. "But it has to mean something."
The outgoing, artistic and "genuinely nice" little girl gets remembered each year at the Hayward site from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by family, friends and people eager to show their support.
Last year, 60 people attended the event. Murch said one woman, who lost her daughter in a car accident, travels all the way from Southern California to attend.
This year, Murch's 23-year-old son, Robbie, will dedicate a few songs on his guitar to his older sister.
Yellow ribbons can also be tied along a nearby tree where the kidnapper's car was parked. The idea was inspired by Michaela's classmate, who first tied yellow ribbons around their school's old oak tree. Known as "the waiting tree," local children usually waited there after school to get picked up by their parents.
"The yellow ribbons are just a symbolism of waiting for someone to come home," Murch said. "We have never stopped looking for her or loving her."
For more information on Murch, Michaela and the active case, visit the following websites:
- Murch's blog: www.thewonderingheart.blogspot.com
- Michaela's website: www.missingmichaela.com
- Facebook page dedicated to Michaela: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelaJoyGarecht?sk=wall
- Facebook page for the 23rd anniversary of Michaela's kidnapping (November 19, 2011) https://www.facebook.com/events/256784957700691/