A body found buried in a shallow grave along a riverbank and covered in cement is likely that of a missing 5-year-old Michigan girl and authorities said they've turned their attention to finding the person who abducted and killed her.
Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said police have a "reasonable suspicion" that the body is that of Nevaeh Buchanan, who disappeared May 24 from the parking lot of her apartment complex about seven miles away. He declined to comment Friday when asked about two people previously identified as persons of interest in the case including a registered sex offender, who has denied his involvement.
"(The) person to our knowledge is still out there in the community," Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said Friday. "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."
Police also found a shirt similar to the one she was wearing when she was abducted from her home in Monroe, about 35 miles southwest of Detroit, but would not say whether she wearing it.
The body was discovered Thursday afternoon by a father and son fishing along the banks of the River Raisin in Monroe County's rural Raisinville Township.
'She broke down'
It ended a "nerve-racking" chapter for the family, said Nevaeh's uncle, Michael Buchanan.
When the girl's mother, Jennifer Buchanan, was told about it "she broke down, and broke down hard," said Michael Buchanan, her brother.
"She couldn't believe her daughter had to go through this," he said, adding that if it is Nevaeh's body it provides "some type of closure, even if it is for the worst.
"Whoever is found guilty of this case, I hope and pray they get the maximum punishment possible, regardless of who it is."
It wasn't clear whether a concrete slab was on top of the body or if someone poured cement on the grave, said Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office.
Arena said the person who placed the body there would need to be in good physical shape to be able to get it in that position along the enbankment.
"It's a little more sophisticated than just dumping a body," he said.
'It hits home'
An autopsy was being conducted Friday by the Wayne County medical examiner's office and investigators hoped test results would confirm a cause of death. There were no obvious signs of violence to the body, Crutchfield said.
A task force made up of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies had been working 24 hours a day to find Nevaeh and solicited 1,000 tips. Neighbors, friends and family members also organized search groups to comb the area.
The base of a large tree near her home has become a collection point for scores of stuffed animals, pinwheels and a Pocahontas book dropped off with her in mind.
The memorial even has drawn strangers who have heard Nevaeh's story.
"It hits home — it really hits home," said Amanda Geiman-Martinez, 28, who grew up nearby but now lives in Toledo, Ohio. She came Friday with her children, 4 and 2, and has participated in vigils.