MONROE - Nevaeh Buchanan, the murdered 5-year-old Monroe girl whose body was discovered by fishermen last month, may have been buried along the River Raisin alive, authorities said yesterday.
Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said autopsy results released by the Wayne County medical examiner showed the girl died of asphyxiation and had inhaled dirt into her lungs.
Nevaeh's body was found June 4 buried in a shallow grave and encased in concrete. She had been missing for 11 days.
Sheriff Crutchfield said last night that the girl may have been buried alive or held down in the dirt, causing her to suffocate. The autopsy showed that the body had no trauma such as broken bones or bruises, he said.
The sheriff said the exact day or time of her death couldn't be determined, but the autopsy indicated she died shortly after she was discovered to be missing from her home. "I can't give you a day or time. But it would have been soon after she disappeared. Within a window of a day or so, if not on that very same evening."
No one has been arrested. Her funeral was held one month ago this week.
Nevaeh had been riding a scooter in the parking lot of the Charlotte Arms apartment complex on North Macomb Street in Monroe shortly before she was reported missing on the evening of May 24.
She lived in the apartment complex with her mother, Jennifer Buchanan, and grandmother Sherry Buchanan.
A Newport, Mich., man and his stepfather who were fishing along the river in Raisinville Township kicked loose the freshly poured concrete to expose part of the girl's body, extinguishing the family's hope of finding the girl alive.
Diana Lawson, Nevaeh's great-aunt, said detectives went yesterday to the Food Town in Monroe where her sister Sherry Buchanan works to discuss the autopsy findings. "They said to her Nevaeh was buried alive," Ms. Lawson said. "She had a little dirt in her throat. She didn't suffer anything."
She said her sister became very emotional after sheriff's detectives told her about how her granddaughter had died.
"She had tears streaming down her cheeks. She's very upset," Ms. Lawson said.
Shaun Lawson, Ms. Lawson's son and Nevaeh's cousin, said she was found face-down in the shallow grave and naked, with her clothes tucked underneath her.
Sheriff Crutchfield said he wouldn't comment on whether the victim was found naked or sexually assaulted. "We aren't discussing those types of details," he said.
The sheriff said toxicology testing conducted by the medical examiner's office showed that she wasn't drugged.
Ms. Lawson said Nevaeh's 24-year-old mother, Jennifer, was inside the Charlotte Arms apartment complex last night and was "not taking it easy" upon hearing about the autopsy.
Shane Hinojosa, Nevaeh's father, learned of the autopsy results from media reports, said his mother, Carla Elliotte.
"He is devastated," she said.
Sherry Buchanan was at work last night and declined to comment.
Ms. Lawson and her son last night renewed their appeal for state lawmakers to institute the death penalty in Michigan for murder.
"I want to see him suffer in a slow death," Ms. Lawson said.
Mr. Lawson said that state taxpayers will end up footing the bill if the killer or killers are arrested and convicted.
"This guy, if they catch him, will end up getting three meals a day and watching cable TV," he said. "The person needs to be caught. That is the main thing. Until the person is caught, every child in this community is in danger."
When asked if there was any solace to autopsy findings that Nevaeh may have died unconscious and didn't suffer trauma, Mr. Lawson said: "It makes it worse. She was buried alive. That's got to be the cruelest way to go - to have all that fear in you when you are dying."
A task force of local, state, and federal investigators has received more than 1,200 tips since the girl's disappearance.
Investigators are continuing to ask the public for help in developing leads and are asking for tips and information on vehicles or anyone who had fished along the river bank near Dixon Road, about halfway between Monroe and Dundee. They are asked to call the task force tip line at 734-243-7070.
"We continue to interview people daily. We are working on tips and they lead us to other tips. We have to clarify those tips and move on," the sheriff said.
Sheriff Crutchfield said testing being conducted at the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory on evidence recovered at the gravesite is ongoing. He refused to comment on what was found at the scene.
Blade Staff Writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
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