MONROE — It was four years ago today that 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan was snatched during broad daylight outside her home at the Charlotte Arms apartments.
She was last seen alive in the parking lot, riding a scooter and playing with friends in the complex’s parking lot on a Sunday evening.
Quarries, woods, and ditches were combed in an exhaustive search. Ten days later, the rambunctious, dark-eyed little girl who loved motorcycles and SpongeBob SquarePants was found buried in a shallow grave along the River Raisin.
The murder, considered one of the area’s most horrific, remains a mystery with no arrests. But the crime has not been forgotten, and for some, that spring day was life-changing.
Thousands of tips and other information poured into a hot line during the investigation’s early days for review by a joint task force of local, state, and federal law enforcement.
Det. Joseph Hammond of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said tips to the 734-457-6713 hot line have dwindled to about one a month.
“Anything that we get we look into it. There is an active investigation and the case is still open and hasn’t been closed,” said Detective Hammond, who was part of the original investigative team.
Justice for Nevaeh sponsored a remembrance and fund-raiser Wednesday at the Monroe Moose Family Center, down the street from Charlotte Arms.
A candlelight vigil this week, held after a spaghetti dinner and raffle, attracted a couple dozen people, including Nevaeh’s grandmother, Sherry Buchanan, who had custody of the little girl who would have turned 9 in February.
Risa Smith, a cousin of Nevaeh’s father, began Justice for Nevaeh out of frustration with the lack of progress in the case, and a desire to memorialize her name.
The organization collected money to erect a memorial bench on the playground at Riverside Elementary School in Monroe and awards two annual scholarships for preschoolers to an early education program Nevaeh attended — a total of six so far to needy families.
The group also holds awareness and child-identification programs for kids, including free school supplies and backpacks in August.
“The community hasn’t lost interest, that’s for sure. I’m sure Nevaeh’s abduction and murder has left a wound that will not heal soon,” said Joe Starkey, the group’s president.
Mrs. Smith said more than 40 events have been held and nearly 100,000 reward posters with information about the slaying have been distributed since Nevaeh for Justice was formed.
Tips her groups receive are forwarded to the task force, she said.
“We are not calling this a cold case. How can you call it a cold case when we are still getting tips?” she said.
Two sex offenders who were friends with Nevaeh’s mother, Jennifer Buchanan, were arrested shortly after the girl’s disappearance and named “persons of interest” in the case, then sent back to prison on unrelated crimes.
George Kennedy, 43, who had been in a relationship with Nevaeh’s mother, is to be released Feb. 1, 2014. Roy Lee Smith, 52, has a maximum discharge date of 2035, but is to go before the parole board in December.
Lowell Kirk and his stepson, Guy Bickley, who found the girl’s body, said the tragedy has changed their lives forever.
Mr. Kirk, 76, of Tennessee, and Mr. Bickley, 56, of Newport, Mich., had planned to go fishing on Lake Erie on June 4, 2009, but high winds sent them on a whim to the Raisin riverbank along Dixon Road in Raisinville Township.
“This little child never made it to kindergarten,” Mr. Bickley said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Nevaeh.”
Both say they believe God sent them there that day, although Mr. Kirk, a retired autoworker, said he regrets the discovery.
“It will haunt me for the rest of my life. I wake up sometimes at night and think about that little girl. Anybody who would do that to a little girl is something else,” Mr. Kirk said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.