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MONROE - The hearse carrying the small coffin of 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan slowed Saturday afternoon as a crowd of about 100 mourners gathered at Munson Park, her favorite park.
Dozens of helium balloons were released, one of many touches as the child was laid to rest almost three weeks to the day that she disappeared.
During a somber ceremony at the Stewart Road Christian Ministries Center in Monroe, two pastors assured the crowd of at least 500 that Nevaeh, whose name was heaven spelled backward, had gone home to be with Jesus Christ.
The celebration of life service also featured poems written for Nevaeh by her father, a song about the young girl and the life she had lived, and a slide presentation that showed happy moments from a life cut short by an assailant who has yet to be caught.
"Its so devastating and unbelievable the way she died," said Andrea Adams of Monroe, who was at the balloon release at Munson Park with her daughter, Allison, 16.
"This is to pay our final respects to her. This is my daughter, and I thank God that nothing bad ever happened to her when she was little," Ms. Adams said, fighting back tears.
To showcase Nevaehs love of motorcycles, the hearse was pulled by a single motorcycle, and there were at least 100 motorcyclists who rode in the procession, which was led by 10 police motorcycles.
Nevaeh disappeared the evening of May 24 while playing in the parking lot of the Charlotte Arms apartment complex on North Macomb Street in Monroe, which had been home to her mother, Jennifer, and grandmother, Sherry, for two months.
Family and strangers alike held out hope that the young girl would be found alive, but two fishermen discovered her body in a shallow grave along the banks of the River Raisin less than two weeks later.
Even after the body was discovered, family members held out hope that the body was not that of Nevaeh, but the Monroe County Sheriffs Office announced this week that DNA testing confirmed her identity.
The sheriffs office has released no more information on the autopsy being performed by the Wayne County Medical Examiners Office in Detroit, and it has said it is tracking more than 1,100 tips that have poured in.