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Wash. Girl Found Raped, Slain in 1986 After Going to Park with Sisters — and Now Suspect Has Been Arrested

Harriet Sokmensuer
Wash. Girl Found Slain in 1986 — and Suspect Is Arrested

Washington authorities have arrested a suspect in the killing of a Tacoma girl who was found dead in a ravine in 1986, PEOPLE confirms.

The suspect, who police have not publicly identified, is currently behind bars awaiting arraignment, the Tacoma Police Department said in a news release obtained by PEOPLE.

But according to The News Tribune of Tacoma and local station KIRO, the suspect in the killing is Gary Charles Hartman, 66. PEOPLE confirms from online jail records that Hartman was arrested by Tacoma police on murder charges Wednesday.

On March 26, 1986, Michella Welch went missing while she and her two younger sisters were visiting Puget Park.

The three girls arrived at the park together, but at around 10 a.m. Michella left to get lunch for her sisters. While waiting for Michella, the two sisters went to a nearby business to use the restroom, police said in the news release.

Police believe that when Michella returned and didn’t see her sisters, she went looking for them.

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But by the time her sisters returned to the park at 1 p.m., Michella was gone. She had left her bike behind and her lunch on a table.

When she was later found, authorities discovered she died from a cut to the neck and she had been sexually assaulted, the The News Tribune reports.

A home in Lakewood was searched by police Wednesday night, according to KIMA-TV. Police told the station they have been processing the home in connection to the killing.

“It is so unfair that he’s been out and living his life and doing whatever he wants to do and hers was cut short,” Jennifer Hansen, a childhood friend of Michella’s, told KIMA-TV. “It has always weighed on my heart.”