Police arrest suspect in 1986 killing of 12-year-old Tacoma girl

Michella Welch (File photo)

TACOMA, Wash. - More than three decades after a young Tacoma girl was found dead in a Tacoma park, police have arrested a suspect in her murder.

Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said the arrest was made after investigators found probable cause to connect the suspect with the cold-blooded 1986 killing of 12-year-old Michella Welch.

Investigators would not identify the suspect. Police said he is in police custody waiting arraignment.

Tacoma Police spent much of Wednesday night searching a home on Lake Grove Street SW in Lakewood after arresting a suspect in Welch’s murder. Investigators said they have been processing the house in connection to the murder arrest.

Michella’s childhood friends said they live around the corner from where the house was being searched.

“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,” said Jennifer Hansen. “It has always weighed on my heart.”

“It’s a relief but I’m shocked,” said childhood friend Melissa Cooper. “I mean I’m still shocked that it’s so close, not even a mile from my home.”

According to police files, Michella and her two younger sisters were visiting Puget Park, at 3100 N. Proctor in Tacoma, on March 26, 1986, when Michella left at about 10 a.m. to get lunch for her sisters.

When she returned, she may have gone looking for her sisters who had gone to a nearby business to use a restroom. When Michella’s sisters returned to the park around 1 p.m., they found Michella’s bike and lunch on the table, but could not find Michella.

A search was conducted of an adjacent gulch where Michella’s body was discovered several hours later.

“I will not go to Puget park but I can’t drive by it without thinking about it,” said Cooper.

The killing shook up the Western Washington community - especially after no suspect was identified in the months and years afterward.

"I'm very angry and want to see justice served but I'm also, I'm grateful l for her family and her community of classmates who've carried this for 32 years,” said Hansen.

Cool said more information about the case will be released at a later news conference.

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