The yellow ribbons have been going up here for more than two decades. They signify the enduring hope that Michaela Garecht might return home safely. This year, the ribbons are back, but the hope has been set aside amid the reality that Michaela's family could soon learn they may not have the kind of homecoming they've been hoping for.
Sharon Murch, Michaela's mother, knows this may be the last time she hands out yellow ribbons to remember the day 24 years ago, when her 9-year-old daughter disappeared from a Hayward parking lot.
This annual gathering comes as a laboratory in Virginia performs DNA testing on a bone fragment found in a San Joaquin County well to see if it is from Michaela. Murch says this year the emotions are deep and conflicting.
"I feel a large sense of confusion actually," said Murch.
The three-inch bone fragment was found co-mingled with others in the well that contained the remains of JoAnn Hobson, one of the victims of the so-called "Speed Freak Killers" Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine.
The fragment is believed to be that of a child, age 5 to 13 from a time period that included the year of Michaela's disappearance.
"We need to get some conclusive results from the scientific analysis of the bone, which is what we're waiting on, but yeah, there are other factors," said Hayward police inspector Kevin Atkins.
After some delays, the testing is now supposed to be completed in a few weeks.
"I have spent all of this time looking for Michaela, believing that, well not even so much believing that she's alive, but just hoping she's alive and trying to reach out to her. And I'm still doing that, yet there's just kind of a cloud over everything," said Murch.
Whatever the outcome, Murch says she'll always carry Michaela with her, as expressed in the poem she put with her daughter's picture.
"If ever there is a time when we are not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart, I will always be with you," said Murch.
While the surviving Speed Freak Killer, Shermantine, has pointed pointed investigators to the remains of some victims, we're told by police he has not said anything about Michaela. That's why they must wait for the DNA results, expected in about a month.