'He cut such a precious life short': Michella Welch's sister speaks out after 32 years

Michella Welch's younger sister, Nicole Eby.

TACOMA — The family of Michella Welch waited 32 years to see justice for Michella. Friday night her sister spoke to KOMO News.

The 12-year-old girl was raped and murdered in a Tacoma Park in 1986.

Police charged Gary Charles Hartman, 66, with the rape and murder on Friday.

RELATED: DNA on napkin leads investigators to Hartman

"Very unfair that he cut such a precious life short that I don't understand,” said Michella’s younger sister, Nicole Eby.

Since she was nine years old, Eby and her family carried an inconceivable burden — the day Michella was found raped and murdered in Puget Park.

The sisters had gone to the Park to play, and police say Michella left to grab them lunch and her sisters also left; when the sisters came back, their lunch was there, but Michella was gone.

"She would come and help me if I fell down and scraped my knee,” said Eby. “She was like a mom, a second mom to me and it's hard to lose.

Hartman worked as a community nurse at Western State Hospital, who is married with children.

Cold-case detectives sent DNA from the murder scene to DNA profilers, and a match came back to Hartman and his brother.

Detectives zeroed in on Hartman with DNA they got from a napkin he left at a restaurant.

We asked Eby if she forgives Hartman, to which she responded, “Yeah I do, I do. It’s hard but if I hold that in, it makes me angry."

But that forgiveness, drawn from her faith, shouldn't be confused with wanting justice for her sister. "Since Michella didn't get to live her life out I want to live my life out for good,” said Eby. “His choices will hopefully put him behind bars and where I think he should live the rest of his life.”

A nurse who crossed paths with Gary Hartman on the job said she always felt uneasy around him.

Stephanie Brookens said she met Hartman in 2007 while he was a nurse at Western State Hospital and she worked for another agency.

“I knew there was something off but I didn’t know how bad it was you know? I would have figured cheat on his wife or something minor,” said Brookens. “A murder and a rape? I don’t understand how you can put that in a little box in your mind and then go into a helping profession.”

Hartman worked on a discharge team helping patients integrate back into the community.

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