Alta Journal Contributor Wins Feature Writing Award

A heartbreaking story by Katya Cengel honored in a national competition.

katya cengel, sharon murch

Alta Journal contributor Katya Cengel won first place in the Society for Features Journalism annual Excellence-in-Features competition.

Cengel’s article, “Michaela’s Shadow,” sheds light on the story of Sharon Murch and her nine-year-old daughter, Michaela, who was kidnapped on November 19, 1988, in Hayward, California. The piece describes Murch’s relentless search for Michaela and the anguish she endured, not knowing the fate of her child for decades. After receiving information on Michaela’s final days, due to an arrest made in the case, Murch found a bit of closure and now lives a quiet life in Iowa.

Cengel first learned about Murch and her daughter while working on a project concerning missing children. The assignment fell through, but later, when there was an update in Michaela’s case, Cengel revisited the family to help tell their story.

“I think it is important for their words to be heard and that people understand what they have been through,” says Cengel. “It’s another way to bring light to Michaela and remember her.”

“Katya handles the tragic disappearance of a nine-year-old girl with grace and sensitivity, rendering her mother’s anguish truthfully,” says Blaise Zerega, Alta’s managing editor. “We’re so pleased the judges honored this unforgettable story.”

Founded in 1947, the Society for Features Journalism strives to promote excellence in lifestyle, arts, and entertainment journalism. The Excellence-in-Features competition receives submissions from across the nation.•

Elizabeth Casillas is Alta Journal’s editorial assistant.
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