"I love you, Mom," she said.
"I love you, too," Murch told Michaela.
Those were their last words. The mother watched until her daughter got to the end of the street and out of sight.
At the store, the girls bought sodas, candy and beef jerky. When they came out, one of the scooters had been moved, three parking spaces down from the door, next to a car. Michaela went to get it when a man grabbed her from behind and shoved her, screaming, into his car.
People at the store, including Michaela's friend, witnessed the kidnapping and immediately called 911.
The community response was swift and overwhelming. Fliers with the blond, blue-eyed child's picture plastered the East Bay. Her mother pleaded on national television for the kidnapper to release her. When Jaycee Dugard, a California girl missing for 18 years, was found, Murch went on television again, talking to any reporter who would give her a few seconds of airtime.
But nearly 25 years and 15,000 tips later, Michaela remains missing.
The Hayward Police Department calls Michaela's kidnapping a priority and an active case, far from cold. An entire room is dedicated to the case. Michaela's yellowing flier is still pinned to a wall, facing file cabinets packed with the tips called in by the public. Officers chased leads when possible, but each path ran cold.
Murch has run down tips of her own, following a lead through Russia into the United Arab Emirates. On her blog, www.dearmichaela.com, she's written messages in Arabic and Russian, just in case her child was spirited to either country long ago.
She has good days and bad days. Her daughter's absence never leaves her. "It's always there. It's a big hole in the center of my life. It's impossible to get away from it. If Michaela is out there, if she is alive, she needs me to look for her."
Murch says that her heart has been shredded so many times in the past 25 years, she doesn't know if her child is alive or not. She doesn't know if Michaela is unwilling to return, long brainwashed by a captor. But it's better for her, she says, to believe that she will hold Michaela again someday.
Murch had taken fertility pills to get pregnant with Michaela. She wondered if God had been trying to tell her something.
"I often wonder if God wasn't saying, 'Wait. Are you sure you want to do this? 'Cause it's gonna hurt like hell.' But I couldn't have not done it.' ''
Last year on Mother's Day, Murch wrote about how becoming a mother is an act of courage, because it's agreeing to subject yourself to heartbreak.
"I confirm life and love and all it entails, from the very sweetest, to the most bitter and sorrowful. And even though being a mother has caused me the most tremendous sorrow and heartache, even though it has been like a huge vise in my chest squeezing my heart, it has also been the sun that lights my days."
17 months, and still hopeful
It was the Sunday before Christmas -- December 18, 2011. Phoenix Coldon attended church as part of a family whose faith is at the forefront of every decision they make. And she shot a few hoops in the yard.
It was unseasonably warm in St. Louis, and as Goldia Coldon watched her daughter play basketball, she thought Phoenix looked like she was still 12.
"Where has the time gone?" Coldon wondered. Phoenix was 23, and earlier in the year had moved back home while she finished college.
Coldon looked forward to decorating the Christmas tree with Phoenix later in the day. Her daughter was much better at it. It was an artificial tree with lights -- nothing too fancy. Phoenix loved to rip open presents on Christmas morning and chided her mom for buying expensive wrapping paper. So Coldon began using newspaper for some of the gifts. She always took care to hide one small gift among the tree branches so Phoenix would have to search it out.
On that Sunday afternoon, Phoenix climbed into her 1998 Chevy Blazer. The windows were tinted, so her mother could see only a silhouette. She knew her daughter often sat in her truck and talked on her cell phone.
About 3 p.m., Phoenix's father saw her pull out of the driveway. He thought she was going to the convenience store around the corner or maybe to a friend's house.
But Phoenix never returned.
By midnight, the Coldons knew something was wrong. It was not like Phoenix to leave and not say anything to her parents.
The couple spent the next day on the phone with friends, family and hospitals. When no clues surfaced, they called police.