Garecht was abducted at approximately 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, November 19, 1988. She and a friend left home at 10:00 a.m. and rode their scooters to the market, two blocks away. They left the scooters by the front door (now the side door) as they went inside the store. Upon leaving the store, the two girls started walking home, forgetting about the scooters. When they realized they had forgotten them, they turned back to where they left them; however, they saw that a scooter was missing. Garecht then spotted the scooter farther down in the market parking lot, where it had been placed near a parked car. When Garecht bent down to pick the scooter up by the handle bars, an unidentified white male came out of the parked car, picked her up with his right arm around her waist, and put her into his car as she screamed. Garecht's friend was the only witness and she ran back into the store to get help. The abductor escaped with Garecht.
Garecht's abductor is described as a white male in his twenties at the time of the abduction. The most distinguishing characteristic was that he seemed to have severe acne or pockmarks on his face. He had shoulder length, dirty blonde hair. He was around 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) in height and had a slender build. The witness described him as having fox-like, blue eyes and wearing a white T-shirt.
The abductor drove a large, older model, American-made sedan. It was possibly a four-door vehicle and was either cream or tannish gold in color. The car may have had cement splatters on the sides and lights set into the rear bumper. The front bumper was battered; the vehicle appeared run-down, it may have previously been in an accident. The car was last seen speeding south on Mission Boulevard toward nearby Union City, California, with Garecht inside.
Garecht's kidnapping led to one of the most extensive police investigations by the Hayward Police department and they received 5,000 tips in the first year alone. In 1994, The Daily Review reported that police had followed up more than 15,000 leads. More than two decades later, the investigation at the Hayward Police Station continues. Chief investigator Inspector Robert Lampkin declared, "We'll go anywhere, any corner of the earth to try to bring Michaela home". It has also remained an open case with the FBI and it is believed to still be solvable.
At the time of the kidnapping, Garecht's photo was featured as a missing child on milk cartons and billboards nationally and thousands of fliers and posters were spread throughout the community.
Garecht's kidnapping was a high-profile missing-child case, and received national media attention. Her case was the first missing-child case to feature on America's Most Wanted in 1988. The case featured once again on the show in 2009. The case has also featured on numerous other television shows including Unsolved Mysteries (twice) and many talk shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dateline NBC, Larry King Live, CNN, Geraldo, Leeza, Maury, The Susan Powter Show, The Jane Whitney Show, The Today Show, Good Morning and The Early Show. The case has also caught the attention of the international media.
The reappearance of kidnapped schoolgirl Jaycee Lee Dugard, after 18 years in captivity, led police to be initially hopeful that Dugard's abductor, Phillip Garrido, might have also been involved in Garecht's disappearance. Hayward is within an hour's drive from Garrido's Antioch home in Contra Costa County, and Garecht's abduction took place three months after Garrido was freed from prison for rape and kidnapping. Like Garecht, Dugard was also thrown into the back of a car in broad daylight and in the presence of witnesses. The general description of the kidnapper and the car used in both kidnappings are also similar. The Hayward Police Department conducted a extensive investigation into the Garridos, and no evidence linking them to Garecht's abduction was found. The connection did, however, propel Garecht back into national and international attention and brought forth new leads.
Wesley Shermantine, one of the so-called Speed Freak Killers duo, wrote a letter to The Stockton Record after his partner in crime, Loren Herzog, committed suicide in January 2012, in which he pointed out that Herzog bore a resemblance to the composite of the person who kidnapped "that Hayward girl."
Investigators point out that there are well over 5,000 leads in this case, most of which have not been in the media and remain confidential.
The anniversary of Garecht's kidnapping has been marked every year at the location where the kidnapping took place. Numerous ribbons, new and old, are tied to the tree next to where the kidnapper's car was parked. Her mother keeps a blog dedicated to her daughter.