MONROE After getting a phone call from distraught Jennifer Buchanan telling him that her daughter, Nevaeh, was missing, George Kennedy said he immediately went to the girl's North Macomb Street neighborhood to look for the 5-year-old.
Kennedy, 39, who was taken into custody on unrelated charges the night Nevaeh disappeared, told The Blade Wednesday that he drove with his girlfriend, Savannah Gray, to the child's preschool on Riverview Avenue, near her home in Charlotte Arms apartments, and then went to Greenwood Apartments to continue the search.
'I figured maybe she was back there playing. Savannah went one way and I went another way,' said Kennedy, who has been locked up on an unrelated parole violation in the Monroe County jail since May 24, when Nevaeh went missing. '"We went to certain areas that I thought she could be."
After a security guard told him that police had been at the apartments looking for her, Kennedy said Nevaeh's mother reached him on his cell phone to tell him that sheriff's deputies wanted to talk to him about the missing girl because they learned he was a convicted sex offender.
In an exclusive interview with The Blade, Kennedy said he wasted no time in returning to his Motel 7 room on South Dixie Highway, where he met his parole officer and sheriff's detectives, who put him in handcuffs and took him to the jail.
"I ain't got nothing to run from,' he said. 'I went back to the motel room to clear my name."
But Kennedy's past was revealed and his conviction for rape made him the focus of the investigation, he said.
The father of a 12-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son, Kennedy was freed in July, 2007, from prison, where he had served part of a two to 15-year sentence for the sexual assault of a teen girl in 1998.
He denied that he kidnapped or killed Nevaeh, who was last seen riding a scooter in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lives.
"I didn't take her and I definitely didn't kill her," he said.
When asked if he knows or suspects who is responsible, he said: "I have no clue. I wish that I did have some clue. I am hoping that she ain't dead. I still got my fingers crossed that they are going to find her alive."
Kennedy admitted that he knew having a relationship with Nevaeh's mother, 24, whom he met about two years ago at the parole office, could get him shipped back to prison.
Nevertheless, he said he formed a friendship with Nevaeh's mother, in part, because of loneliness.
"I am 39 years old. I don't want to grow old by myself. I just want a companion and to be happy. If they got a kid, I don't have a problem with that and helping them raise kids. I ain't preying on women to be with their kids," he said.
Kennedy said Buchanan and her mother, Sherry Buchanan, learned shortly after he met them that he was a registered sexual offender because they checked his offender status on a state Web site.
He said Sherry Buchanan, who took custody of Nevaeh while Jennifer spent 11 months in jail, made sure that he was never alone with the child.
"I was a father figure to that little girl," he said. "Because I am a sex offender it doesn't mean I have to bury myself under a rock. I have no regrets about knowing Nevaeh, her mother, or grandmother. I care about them a lot."
He admitted to giving gifts to Neveah, including the plastic motorcycles that her grandmother showed to the media last week.
Kennedy said he hasn't seen Nevaeh and her mother in more than a month, about the time he began dating Ms. Gray.
In the days after she disappeared, Kennedy and Roy Lee Smith emerged as
persons of interest as more than 100 investigators from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies combed for clues, interviewed witnesses, searched units at Charlotte Arms, and dived into quarries.
Smith, also a convicted sex offender, was taken into custody on a parole violation stemming from a third-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction in 1991.
Kennedy said he met Smith, 48, in a sex-offender counseling class.
Kennedy said he was locked up in isolation for eight of the 11 days he has been jailed, and sheriff's deputies, police detectives, and FBI agents spent hours questioning him about his whereabouts when Nevaeh went missing and what he was doing before and after she vanished.
"They didn't want me talking to anybody. They had me locked down in a room for over a week," he said. "They wouldn't let me out for my own safety because everyone in the county wants to hurt me and crucify me."
He said he was cleared as a person of interest after authorities checked his alibis against witness statements, receipts, and video surveillance and came up with nothing.
He said he had used the car of his girlfriend's mother to take friends to the county inmate dormitory about 7:15 p.m. May 24 to visit their friend. He said he went to the motel and to a nearby gas station, where he believes he appeared on video. He went back to the dormitory and took his friends to their home.
Investigators searched Kennedy's motel room after a 5-year-old playmate said she witnessed Nevaeh being stabbed with a knife after going "into the woods ... to meet Daddy George" and an 8-year-old neighbor boy who said the girl was kidnapped by a "bad man" and stabbed.
Kennedy said he was 'clueless' to the statements of the children. "That is the first time I heard of that," he said. He said that Nevaeh was frightened
to go alone into the woods near the apartments.
"She wasn't going to go into the woods for anybody. I just don't see her doing that at all," he said.
Bloodstained shorts, a towel, and blood spots on a wall from his motel bathroom, and a multiknife tool set taken from a 1993 GMC van that Kennedy was driving were tested at the Michigan State Police crime lab.
However, Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said none of the property belonging to Kennedy matched Nevaeh's DNA.
Kennedy said there was blood in the motel room because he cut himself shaving and blood was left in the room after his girlfriend, Ms. Gray, bled after getting a tattoo. He said that he cut himself with the multiknife while fishing several days before Nevaeh vanished and may have left blood on it.
Kennedy said he had traded his Ford Thunderbird to Smith for his nephew's GMC van. He said he parked the van May 22 two days before Nevaeh vanished at the home of his girlfriend's mother on North Monroe Street after state troopers cited him for driving it without a valid registration.
Kennedy was convicted in March, 2002, on home invasion and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for the 1998 rape of a 15-year-old girl behind a gas station in Monroe County.
Kennedy was ordered into a 90-day state residential treatment program last December after parole violations for moving without approval and violating curfew, said John Cordell, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He was released from the re-entry program in March.
Mr. Cordell said Kennedy waived a hearing in jail on the recent parole violation for having contact with Nevaeh and her family and a recommendation was made to terminate his parole. If accepted, Kennedy could be sent to prison to serve the remainder of his original two to 15-year sentence.
Kennedy said he didn't want to fight the charges in court because "my parole officer has been trying to send me back to prison for years."
He said: "I knew I was going to go back to prison."
Monroe County Sheriff's Capt. Dan Motylinski said he could not confirm that Kennedy was no longer a person of interest in Nevaeh's disappearance.
Kennedy, who grew up in Haskins and Liberty Center, Ohio, southwest of Toledo,
was one month away from being released from parole.
If he had gotten off parole, he said he had planned to move from Monroe to Ohio to be closer to his son and daughter, who lives with her mother in Toledo, and other family.
"There are no jobs to get here. There is nothing here for me. I was going to go where my family is at," he said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.