MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – A 20-year-old man was charged Friday with beating and dragging a 4-year-old just weeks before the child's body was found under the porch of his mother's home in mid-Michigan.
While Anthony Bennett was not charged in the death of Carnel Chamberlain on Friday, family members say he was the last person to see Carnel before his disappearance June 21. A weeklong, seemingly fruitless search of woods and ponds around the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe reservation ended at the child's home Thursday.
Bennett faces a charge of assault resulting in substantial bodily injury to a child under 16, and was sent back to jail after the brief hearing in federal court in Bay City to await a detention hearing next week.
Federal prosecutors, who handle major crimes on Indian reservations, do not want him released on bond, but would not comment when asked if Bennett was being charged with assault as a way of holding him until a more serious charge is brought.
The boy's mother, 21-year-old Jaimee Chamberlain, has said Bennett was in charge of watching Carnel while she was at work. When she returned, the boy was gone.
Kevin Chamberlain — Jaimee's cousin, a family spokesman and the tribe's former chief — said Bennett had been in his cousin's life for about seven months. He said the family believed Bennett had a "troubled past" and that he came off as "a kind of wannabe thug."
"We have no choice but to believe he had something to do with it," Kevin Chamberlain said of Carnel's death. "All eyes and arrows point right to him."
According to the two-page criminal complaint, Jaimee Chamberlain told the FBI that she saw her son with a bruised and swollen face as well as a cut lip in late May or early June. She said he had been struck by Bennett when she was away from the home.
A few days later, she saw Bennett pick up her son by the neck and drop him before dragging him into a room by his foot, according to the court document.
It wasn't known why Jaimee Chamberlain allowed her son to be in her boyfriend's company if she believed he was abusing the boy. She answered her phone when contacted by The Associated Press but hung up without commenting.
Bennett did not appear with a lawyer Friday but suggested he might hire one. Authorities declined to comment outside the courtroom.
The courtroom Friday was full of people who were there to support Carnel and his mother.
"I'm here for Carnel. I am Carnel," grandmother Joann Chamberlain said.
A tribal police car sat outside the family's house, not far from the headquarters of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe and the tribe's financial lifeblood, the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.
People were leaving flowers and items of remembrance for the little boy at the home. At midday, a man got out of a vehicle and placed a stuffed animal on the fence before hopping back in and driving away.
"Nothing this monumentally horrific has ever happened in our community," Kevin Chamberlain said. "Right now, it's a very somber place with a lot of broken hearts."
Carnel's great-aunt, Esther Chatfield, 58, lives next door to the home. She said she and her husband became Jaimee Chamberlain's foster parents when Chamberlain was 8 years old.
"My husband and I are just destroyed by this," Chatfield said.
Associated Press writers David Runk and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.