HAYWARD -- As long as there is any chance that Michaela Garecht is still alive, her family will never stop trying to help authorities find her.
That was the heart-wrenching but hopeful message that Michaela's mother, Sharon Murch, repeated Tuesday in a ceremony at the south Hayward grocery store where Michaela was kidnapped 25 years ago.
"It used to be thought that if a kid was not found in 72 hours, they're probably not alive," Murch said. "But if someone is missing for more than a year, it's just as possible that they're still alive. You cannot discount that possibility; nobody can."
Michaela was 9 years old when she was taken on Nov. 19, 1988, from the parking lot of the Mission Boulevard store, where she and a friend had ridden their scooters just blocks from her home.
In the quarter-century since, detectives have investigated countless leads, including one last year that involved the testing of bone fragments tied to Central Valley serial killers. In January, authorities found the bones did not belong to Michaela.
Her family's spirits were boosted further in recent months when a few cases involving missing teen girls ended with them being found alive.
"In the past, when we said we hoped to find her, people might have looked at us like we're crazy," said Libby Garecht, one of Michaela's five siblings. "But it's happened a lot lately. It's not impossible."
Hayward police Inspector Rob Lampkin, assigned to the Garecht case since 2008, said it remains a high priority, as investigators in Hayward and the FBI continue to track down leads.
So does Murch, who uses her website -- DearMichaela.com -- to receive tips. The site also lists addresses and contact information for U.S. embassies all over the world, with the goal of helping Michaela contact authorities if she is somewhere overseas and needs help.
Tuesday, dozens of people tied yellow ribbons to a tree next to the store but one placed there by Murch stood out, as it included a handwritten message.
"To Michaela, I love you forever," the scrawled note said. "Wherever you are ..."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.