In 1986, a 12-year-old girl ran home to grab sandwiches for lunch. Her sisters could not find her a few minutes later. A search unfolded and found the girl dead. Raped and murdered.
It took more than 35 years, but the child’s family now has justice as the killer will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Recently, a judge in Washington sentenced Gary Hartman to 26-and-a-half years in prison for the killing of Michella Welch in 1986. It wasn’t until 2018, where DNA testing confirmed Hartman was the killer that he was arrested in the cold case.
On March 26, 1986, Welch was with her sisters to play in a park in the Tacoma, Washington, area, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. She ran home to grab sandwiches for lunch and her sisters left the park to find a restroom.
The sisters returned but could not find Welsch. They saw her bike and lunches, though. They called a babysitter, who alerted the authorities.
Police suspected Welch returned to the park and looked for her sisters. Witnesses said they saw her talking to a man pointing down a trail. Later that same night, search teams found Welch’s body near a makeshift fire pit.
She was raped and killed by a cut to the neck and blunt force trauma to the head, according to the News Tribune.
Hartman was found guilty during a bench trial and then sentenced to what likely amounts to a life term, according to KOMO News. Hartman cried as he spoke during his sentencing and apologized to Welch’s family.
"I’m so sorry. God knows I’m so sorry. That doesn’t help. I’m just sorry,” he said, according to KOMO News.
Welch’s family did not buy his apologies, though they said the conviction helped bring some relief.
“I say ‘lock him up and throw away the key,’” said Barbara Leonard, the girl's mother, KOMO News reported. “And now he will pay the price, however it will not bring her back, but justice will have been served. I just pray that he can find repentance and forgiveness with God.”