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Published: Sunday, 5/31/2009

Monroe County detectives question man in missing girl case

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE A week after the disappearance of 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan, Monroe County sheriff s detectives have arrested a third man on unrelated charges and located two boys they hoped would have information in the case.

Arrested was James Easter, 64, who had been questioned by police, then dropped off at his Oak Street home about 5 a.m. Saturday.

About 15 minutes later, he had built a fire in his backyard and was burning things, said Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield.

We extinguished the flames. That elevated him a little bit [in terms of interest], said Sheriff Crutchfield.

Mr. Easter was charged Sunday on a misdemeanor arson count. He was being held in the county jail in lieu of a $250 bond He is slated to appear Monday in Monroe County District Court.

The front and back doors at Mr. Easter s Oak Street home were smudged, apparently from having been dusted for fingerprints. A small sticker on the back door read 5-30-09 and Michigan State Police Laboratory.

Evidence technicians have searched the site and are evaluating the items, said Sheriff Crutchfield.

A fire ring behind Mr. Easter s small, one-story duplex was about a yard in diameter. Next to it was a pile of ashes on a yellow plastic tarp, and a grate. A large, sealed package of chicken pieces was on the back deck, as were several baskets of flowers.

Unopened bags of potting soil and peat humus were piled on white plastic chairs. The yard also had a separately fenced vegetable garden, a shed with a camper top for a roof and gardening tools, a dog and a bird cage, canning jars, and four tires.

Michael Buchanan, Nevaeh s uncle, said he doesn t believe there s a link between Mr. Easter and the girl s disappearance.

With other relatives, Mr. Buchanan, 26, maintained a vigil in a community room next to the Charlotte Arms complex s still-covered swimming pool. Mr. Buchanan notes on a Monroe County map areas that have been searched.

The sheriff s office said yesterday afternoon it had identified boys Ryan and Dillon who were at the Hollywood Elementary School playground between 6 and 7 p.m., about the time Nevaeh went missing.

A chain link fence separates the playground from a grassy area at the rear of the apartment complex. The back door of the unit where the Buchanans live opens onto the grassy stretch.

Our intent [to interview them] is solely as witnesses. We d like to know what they may have seen, the sheriff said.

A week has passed since the child disappeared while playing at the apartment complex where she lived with her mother, Jennifer Buchanan, 24, and grandmother, Sherry Buchanan, who has legal custody.

Sherry Buchanan said yesterday she was leaving work May 24 when she received a call from Jennifer Buchanan, saying she couldn t find Nevaeh.

Since then, police have received nearly 800 tips. About 100 law enforcement officials, including 20 to 30 who took to the streets Sunday, checking out tips.

Sherry Buchanan said police yesterday took a hand print of Neveah, her hair brush, and her favorite stuffed dog. She warned parents and caregivers to keep a close eye on their young ones.

I hope it has awakened Monroe County, she said.

Meanwhile, people touched by the drama, from teenagers to senior citizens, came from Ann Arbor, Bowling Green, and elsewhere, offering to join the hunt.

Dan Pletz sat on the back of his open hatchback car in the parking lot of a K-mart store in Monroe, circling sections of an area map and suggesting where people could search. He advised them to stay together and not to touch anything suspicious but to call the tip hotline, 734-243-7070.

We had a couple of psychics yesterday tell us about an area, and we searched it but didn t find anything, he said.

Tim Dunn drove from Bowling Green to help. The owner of the Dunn Funeral Home and president of Bowling Green Youth Baseball, he said he knows some Monroe coaches.

He explained his motivation for making the 40-mile trip by pulling out a school photo and putting it next to one of the missing girl from the newspaper. The photo he held was of a pretty, smiling girl with long brown hair wearing a white shirt, hands folded under chin. It s the youngest of his four children but is strikingly similar to the image of Nevaeh.

Four teenagers offered to help, promising to search a wooded area near one of their homes.

A man who owns an airplane says he would search from the air.

And Amy Matthews of Ann Arbor, part of an Internet community called Peace4themissing, said she has a small granddaughter. To me, I felt it was my duty to come and help.

Two people of interest remain in the county jail for parole violations: George Kennedy, 39, who is a friend of Nevaeh s mother, and Roy Lee Smith, 48.

The men know each other, and both are convicted sex offenders.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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