Monday marks the 24th anniversary of the disappearance of Michaela Garecht, a Hayward girl kidnapped in 1988.
Her family, as they do every year, gathered at the Hayard market on Mission Boulevard where she was last seen and tied yellow ribbons in her memory.
They are also hoping this year that forensic teams will soon announce results of bone fragments found in San Joaquin County, which may well turn out to be Michaela's, who was 9 when her parents last saw her. Her mother, Sharon Murch, has been very vocal about wanting to find her daughter and keep her memory alive. Her brother, Robbie, sang and played guitar at the event. He was 1 years old when his sister was taken.
"I keep wondering if this might be the last year that we do this," Murch told a crowd of about 50 gathered in front of a Super Mercado on Monday. Then, she added, she probably would always come out for this low-key ceremony even if the bone fragments turn out to be her daughter's, "I do this to remember Michaela."
More than a month ago, the FBI began investigating whether a bone fragment found in Linden belongs to Michaela, and if her death could possibly be linked to the "Speak Freak" killers.
Murch told NBC Bay Area in a previous interview that she was told there was a strong likelihood her daughter's remains were linked to a high profile "Speed Freak" serial murder case because of confidential information police told her.
Hayward police did say the bone fragment is believed to belong to a girl between 5 and 14 years old and stems from the time period when Michaela was kidnapped after she and a friend went to the neighborhood market. The bone fragment had been sent to an Arizona lab, and is now heading to another Virginia lab for further analysis.
The bone fragment was found in February during the excavation of a site revealed by convicted "Speed Freak" killer Wesley Shermantine. Several other skeletal remains have been found in the area and identified as some of Shermantine's and partner-in-crime Loren Herzog's victims. The pair were convicted of four murders but suspected in the deaths of as many as 15 people in and around San Joaquin County from 1994 to 1998. The pair were nicknamed "The Speed Freak Killers" due to their methamphetamine addiction.
In addition, this cold case has taken a dramatic twist, greatly complicating matters. The bone fragment was originally delivered to Joan Shelley, the mother of 16-year-old murder victim JoAnn Hobson, after the excavation in the Linden well. Authorities told Shelley the bone belonged to her daughter, who went missing in 1985. But Shelley sent the fragment off to CSU's Chico Human Identification Laboratory. The lab report, according to the Bay Area News Group, came back stating that because there were so many bones in the well, there were at least two other people's DNA mixed in with Hobson's remains. At least two of the bones were possibly that of a young child, the newspaper reported, leading authorities to suspect they may belong to Michaela.
The report opened up the possibility that there are other victims of the "Speed Freak" killers who have yet to be identified.
Hayward police have custody of these other bones, and now the FBI is helping sort out the confusion.