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MONROE - Neither the family of Nevaeh Buchanan nor the authorities searching for the missing 5-year-old girl would abandon hope Saturday that they will find her alive and unharmed.
But six days after Nevaeh disappeared from the parking lot outside her home, the frustration of waiting without answers is taking its toll.
"That's the hardest part - just waiting and not knowing, not knowing where she is," said JoAnn Combs, the girl's great-grandmother.
Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said he is hopeful Nevaeh is alive and vowed that law enforcement officials will not rest until the girl is reunited with her family and her kidnapper is arrested.
"The longer that we go without finding any indication of Nevaeh being incapacitated, the more hopeful we are that we will find her alive," Sheriff Crutchfield said at a news briefing Saturday morning.
The child's mother, Jennifer Buchanan, reported her missing about 8:30 p.m. May 24 after she could not find her in the parking lot outside their North Macomb Street apartment.
Investigators had received 700 tips as of yesterday morning and had processed 640 of them by 10 a.m.
"This case is very near and dear to all the investigators working," Sheriff Crutchfield said. "Our sympathy goes out to the family. We will remain involved in this. We are very hopeful we will solve this, that we will recover Nevaeh, and that we will apprehend the perpetrator."
Shane Hinojosa, Nevaeh's father, continued searching yesterday - as did nearly 300 volunteers who combed through wooded areas of Monroe, LaSalle, Mich., and Erie, Mich.
"We have to help find this little girl," said Jon Tittle of Monroe. "It appears that someone has taken her, and if that's the case, she has to be found as soon as possible."
A makeshift shrine of pictures, candles, angels, stuffed animals, and balloons outside the girl's home swelled with gifts yesterday. A sign also was erected near the entrance to the complex with written messages from family members and volunteers.
Mr. Hinojosa, who lives in Toledo, has been sleeping in a tent at the apartment complex in order to be close to the search. He wrote a note surrounded by a heart on the sign.
"Daddy loves you very much. I ain't lost hope. I'm still out there looking for you baby. I love you," it read.
Authorities revealed Friday that the DNA of Nevaeh was not found on bloody items belonging to George Kennedy, a convicted sex offender who is considered a person of interest and a friend of Nevaeh's mother.
He had been living in a Monroe motel for five weeks and was jailed May 24 on probation violations.
Asked if Kennedy, 39, is considered a suspect, Sheriff Crutchfield said "he remains a person of interest," but that "we have persons of interest who come on to the radar scene daily. It fluctuates."
He added, "He is not quite as high as he could have been if the blood evidence had come back positive."
Authorities said items belonging to Kennedy were taken in a search of his motel room on South Dixie Highway and sent to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab in Northville, Mich., for analysis.
Sheriff Crutchfield said some of the blood was Kennedy's but would not say how much.
"It is not Nevaeh's blood and we could still find her alive," the sheriff said.
A multiknife tool set and fishing weights that investigators found in a white GMC van that Kennedy reportedly had used also were sent to the crime lab for DNA evidence testing.
Other than Kennedy and Roy Lee Smith, 48, another convicted sex offender who is also in custody on probation violations, no other persons of interest have been named. The sheriff said he would not reveal the names of any other people being investigated.
Sheriff Crutchfield said more than 100 law enforcement officials from half a dozen agencies are involved in the investigation. He declined to reveal the locations searched yesterday.
Authorities have searched the densely wooded area next to the complex, the former France Stone Quarry on South Dixie Highway and Dunbar Road near Kennedy's motel room, and a lake - also a former quarry - near Heck Park on North Dixie near I-75. The searches yielded no clues.
According to the affidavit for the search warrant executed for Kennedy's belongings, an 8-year-old boy, one of two children to last see the girl in the parking lot, told investigators that he watched Nevaeh go "into the woods" and was kidnapped and stabbed by a "bad man."
Another playmate, a 5-year-old girl, claimed she witnessed Nevaeh being stabbed with a knife and "tried to help" but "could not" after she saw the girl "going into the woods to meet Daddy George."
Volunteers used the 108-unit apartment complex at 1160 North Macomb St. as a base of operations yesterday - stopping in to collect flyers with the girl's picture and resting, said Rhonda Cooper, a relative of Ms. Combs.
"Strangers from everywhere are coming to help us look," Ms. Cooper said. "We are not giving up hope and [we] will find her."
Point Place residents Jerry and Sue Sauter drove to the spot were the girl disappeared to place an angel at the shrine.
"God, I hope they find her," Mrs. Sauter said fighting back tears. "I know everyone - everyone - wants her back safe."
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