RAISINVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Sherry Buchanan was clinging to hope that her missing 5-year-old granddaughter was still alive, despite the chilling discovery of a child's body near a river in southeast Michigan.
Police officers have spoken to Nevaeh Buchanan's family and a relative told The Monroe Evening News that the child found earlier Thursday was the missing girl from Monroe. The body was found about seven miles from where Nevaeh last was seen May 24 in the parking lot of her apartment complex in nearby Monroe.
Buchanan said police told her a body had been found. But she said she wouldn't be certain it was her granddaughter "until I see that baby's face ... I'm not giving up hope yet because it could turn out to be another baby."
"They told me they won't know for sure until the DNA test is in," Buchanan said. "It hurts. It hurts not knowing."
The Monroe County Sheriff's Department would not comment on the case Thursday night. A news conference was planned for 10:30 a.m. EDT Friday morning.
An area near the river in Raisinville Township, about 35 miles south-southwest of Detroit, was cordoned off as police investigated late into Thursday night.
They recovered evidence from a shallow grave along the River Raisin's edge that had been covered with some kind of fast-drying cement powder, the Detroit Free Press reported early Friday.
At the 108-unit apartment complex where Nevaeh lived with her mother and grandmother, about 100 people showed up Thursday night to pay tribute to the missing girl. A makeshift shrine outside the house featured a large pasteboard with a drawing of Nevaeh's face encircled by a heart: "Nevaeh, we will find you." Another read: "We miss you. Please come home."
"I came here to pay my respects," said 23-year-old Lena Worrell, a nurse from Monroe. Worrell said she attended elementary school with the girl's mother, Jennifer Buchanan, and held a wax paper cup with a candle inside.
Aaron Johnson, a 52-year-old DTE Energy Co. mechanic who lives in the apartment complex, said he empathizes with the family and remains shocked that such a tragic event has occurred in his tight-knit community.
"I lost a son to crib death, so I know how it feels," Johnson said, standing under the tree. "It's shocking that it happened here. ... Pray for the family."
Johnson and Worrell said they had joined hundreds of people who participated in searches for Nevaeh in the weeks since she disappeared.
Ryan Bickley, 15, told The Associated Press that his father, Guy Bickley, 51, discovered the body encased in cement Thursday morning while fishing the River Raisin.
The teen said his father and grandfather were fishing from shore when Guy Bickley spotted a block of poured cement and noticed a bad aroma that he likened to a decomposing body. He said as his father moved closer to the cement block, the smell "overwhelmed them."
His father then chipped away a piece of the cement, revealing what appeared to be human skin. The men immediately called police.
A task force of federal, state and local law enforcement has been working 24 hours a day to find Nevaeh. Neighbors, friends and family members also have organized search groups.
There have been no arrests in the case.
George Kennedy, 39, a registered sex offender, was one of at least two men previously identified by police as a "person of interest." Kennedy told The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, in an interview published Thursday that he went to look for Buchanan after hearing from her mother she had gone missing. Another man was cleared of involvement.
Kennedy is in custody on a parole violation. He is a friend of Nevaeh's mother.