Breaking News
More () »

Family of Tacoma girl murdered in 1986 faces suspect in court

The family of Michella Welch watched in court as Gary Hartman was arraigned for the murder of the 12-year-old.
Barbara Leonard, the mother of Michella Welch, came to court Monday to face her daughter's accused killer.

The suspect in the 1986 murder of a 12-year-old girl in Tacoma was arraigned Monday. Gary Hartman appeared in Pierce County court Monday as the family of his alleged victim, Michella Welch, watched on.

Hartman is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree rape in the death of Welch.

32 years after her daughter was raped and murdered, Barbara Leonard walked into the courthouse to see the accused killer.

RELATED: Catching a killer: How Tacoma police used genetic genealogy to crack 1986 cold case

"You never expect the face of somebody who has done something this terrible to look normal," Leonard said.

Besides the jail scrubs, that's exactly how Gary Hartman looked: normal. He's a married father of two, according to his neighbors. He's also a nurse at Western State Hospital with no criminal history.

He could be the last person you'd imagine brutalizing a young Michella Welch.

Gary Hartman is led into Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash., June 25, 2018. Hartman was charged with the 1986 murder of 12-year-old Michella Welch.

Welch was babysitting her siblings when she went missing on March 26, 1986. She was at Puget Park in North Tacoma with her two younger sisters when she rode her bike home to pick up sandwiches. When Welch got back to the park, police believe she may have gone looking for her sisters, who had left to use the restroom at a nearby business. Welch's body was found later that night.

Her two younger sisters remembered searching for Welch the day she disappeared.

"We call it a 'yoo hoo,'" said Nicole Eby, Welch's younger sister. "And we yoohooed and yoohooed. We didn't hear her. "

WATCH: Suspect arrested in 1986 Tacoma cold case

Then this week, a break in the case. Using a DNA sample from the scene, Tacoma police identified Hartman through genetic genealogy.

Leonard remembered getting the phone call.

"Chief Ramsdell said 'Are you sitting down?' I had a chair right there so I said. 'Yes.' He said, 'We have apprehended the person we feel is responsible for Michella's murder.' I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," said Leonard.

The young girl's murder took the family years to process.

"I remember standing in the bathroom brushing my daughter's hair," said Eby. "She was 12, almost 13. And it was just amazing what you remember, and the loss."

12-year-old Michella Welch went missing on March 26th, 1986. Her body was discovered later the same day in Puget Park. Credit:  Tacoma Police Department Child Abduction Response Team

What is striking about the Welch's family is how they speak without anger or resentment. But they are clearly set on seeking justice.

"There are consequences to those actions that we do in life," said Angela Velazquez, Welch's other sister. "That if you are not held accountable it changes you into a different person and you think you are above the law."

WATCH: Forensic process of solving cold cases

Before You Leave, Check This Out