Funeral Held For Nevaeh

Police Confirm Body Is Girl's

MONROE, Mich. - The family of Nevaeh Buchanan said their final goodbyes Saturday to the 5-year-old girl whose body was found encased in cement by a fisherman in a southwestern Michigan river.

Nevaeh had been missing for more than two weeks.

Her kidnapping and killing riveted local communities and garnered national headlines.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office confirmed Tuesday that the body found along the River Raisin belonged to the girl, whose name is "heaven" spelled backward.

The sheriff's office said the Michigan State Police confirmed the identification through DNA results, but a cause of death is still pending.

The funeral was held at noon at Christian Ministry Center, located at 1199 Stewart Road in Monroe.

Ther procession drove by Nevaeh's favorite park where she liked to play. A group of people released balloons in her memory.

Hundreds of people mourning Nevaeh filed past her closed casket with her favorite stuffed animal, a beagle named Harley, set on top.

"People don't always know what to say to the family; they just want to show that they have support for them," said funeral director Brian Merkle.

All gifts for the Buchanan family may be sent to Merkle Funeral Service Inc.

The phone at the funeral home in Monroe was "ringing off the hook," said office manager Sirena Williams, with people seeking information about funeral services for Nevaeh and offering gifts ranging from food to discounted hotel rooms.

"Strangers off the street have been coming in and donating their time, trying to help the staff, seeing if the family needs anything," Williams said.

Other donations included the use of an $80,000 hearse drawn by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and provided by another funeral home in nearby Flat Rock.

"Nevaeh touched a lot of lives, way more after she's passed than before," said Merkle. "But the fact is that she touched lives, and we're going to celebrate her five years of life."

The funeral home is donating their services and have rescheduled other funerals to accommodate the turnout expected for Nevaeh's.

Pictures of Nevaeh from birth to as recent as a few weeks ago from her preschool graduation are scattered inside the funeral home, along with her closed casket.

She was born Feb. 3, 2004, and the date of her passing is marked June 4, 2009 -- the day her body was discovered.

"It's so pretty inside there," said visitor Laura Burns, who helped in the search for Nevaeh.

"I kept crying and crying because I've got a little boy," said Burns' daughter, Dawn. "I thought I could go and handle it, but I had to go."

Anyone interested in counseling can contact the mental health department at Mercy Memorial Hospital in Monroe.

"I wanted to thank everybody that helped out ? through this whole ordeal. Both sides of the family would really like to thank everyone," said Nevaeh's uncle, Mike.

"The family's exhausted," said the family's pastor, the Rev. Dell Rayford. "They got the word and now just have to deal with it and bring closure."

"Someone who would take a child ... do what they want with them ? bury them in concrete in a shallow grave ? you have to have a pretty twisted mind to do something like that," said Nevaeh's uncle, Shawn Lawson.

"I'm completely innocent," said the girl's mother, Jennifer Buchanan. "I didn't have anything to do with my daughter's disappearance. I don't do drugs. I hardly ever drink. I don't owe anybody any money. I have hardly any enemies. I don't understand who would come up and take my child."

Police haven't announced any suspects in the case.

"The monster, or whoever he is, I wish he would just turn themselves in," said Nevaeh's aunt, Diana Lawson.

Published reports have said investigators found an empty beer can and a cigarette butt near where Nevaeh's body was found. They have been sent to crime labs for testing.

"There are actually excellent sources of DNA because there are cells that deposited on the end of the cigarette butt from the lining of the mouth and the lips. In addition, pop cans -- again you can have cells from the lips and the inside of the mouth," said Heather Vitta with the Michigan State Police Biology Unit.


"That person, to our knowledge, is still out there in the community. In my opinion it is a very sick or disturbed person we're looking for -- a person that is able to abduct and murder an innocent 5-year-old child," said Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield.

Two men, George Kennedy and Roy Lee Smith, both convicted sex offenders, were named people of interest in the case but have not been charged with anything related to the girl's case.

Kennedy told the Toledo Blade that he met Nevaeh's mother two years ago at the parole office. He said he formed a friendship with her out of loneliness.

Buchanan has been criticized for befriending two convicted sex offenders.

"There are a lot of people saying it's her fault -- her fault she should have been better about it?but you learn from your mistakes, and sometimes mistakes you can't really take them back, like this situation here," said Lawson.

Both Kennedy and Smith violated terms of their probation as offenders by having contact with Buchanan and her daughter.

The two men were transferred to state prison in Jackson to serve out the rest of their sentences, which could turn out to be up to 35 years for Smith and 13 for Kennedy.

To read more about Kennedy, click here .

Nevaeh's grandmother, Sherry Buchanan, got custody of Nevaeh after Buchanan was convicted for breaking into homes to support a drug habit.

The three were sharing a Monroe apartment when Nevaeh disappeared May 24.

Sherry Buchanan said the whole ordeal, especially dealing with the family of Nevaeh's father, Shane Hinojosa, has been very difficult on her.

"Hopefully down the road, I can prove I am on the right side of the road and can hold my head up high," she said.


"I feel like everyone has a lot of negativity about me," Jennifer Buchanan said. "They don't personally know me. ... I feel like everyone is putting me in the category of ... parents who actually did harm their children. ... It's very frustrating."

Jennifer Buchanan said she last saw Nevaeh when the girl left the apartment to visit an 8-year-old friend.

"Mom, I'm going upstairs to ... play a game," Jennifer Buchanan quoted her daughter as saying.

"I trusted her enough for her to actually go," she said.

She said she became concerned after two other young girls came by the apartment and she began an increasingly frantic search for her daughter.

She said her heart sank when she found the purple and green scooter Nevaeh often rode.

"My stomach went into knots," Buchanan said. "It's like a nightmare."

Nevaeh's family said the 5-year-old will be laid to rest with the religious song, "I Will Be Here." A local man named John Vass, also performed a song he wrote in Nevaeh's memory.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.