Thirty-two years ago, a Lakewood girl returned to Puget Park on the afternoon of March 26 with lunch for her little sisters.
That was the last time 12-year-old Michella Welch was seen alive. Later that evening, search teams discovered her body in a fire pit. She had been sexually assaulted and suffered a cut to the neck.
Melissa Cooper went to school with Michella and vividly remembers that day.
"Literally the world changed that day when that happened," she said.
Cooper was shocked to learn that Tacoma police have arrested a suspect in connection to the case. She was even more stunned to learn the man lives close to where Michella used to live.
"I can't believe out of all the places in Pierce County, the guy is right here in Lakewood. She lived just on the other side of the lake," Cooper said.
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Tacoma police did not indicate the evidence they have that links the man to Michella. He was booked in the Pierce County Jail under suspicion of first degree murder Wednesday afternoon. Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said he'll ask for a three-day hold for the suspect while he can review the evidence.
The man's neighbors were shocked to see police at the house for hours Wednesday.
Heather Broadmante lives next door.
"We invited him in our house to have a beer. He seemed like this normal, cool dude," Broadmante said.
This is the second high-profile cold case in Pierce County to see major developments in less than two months.
Five months after Welch was killed, a similar murder occurred at another park in Tacoma's north end.
Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Bastian's alleged killer was arrested in May.
Lindquist said the two murders are part of the reason why the county formed the cold case division in 2011. Advances to DNA technology have made it possible to solve cold cases that seemed hopeless in the past.
"You're going to see more arrests, more prosecutions and more cold cases coming to justice," Lindquist said.
Cox Media Group