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Published: Monday, 9/13/2010

Drive to find Nevaeh's killer intensifies

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - A group working to find the killer of 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan began circulating posters Sunday that they admit are a little "in your face."

With three photos of a smiling Nevaeh followed by a picture of the river bank where her body was found and of her grave site, the posters contain an open letter from the little girl to her killer.

"Tell me, how do you sleep at night knowing what you did to me?" reads the text, written as if spoken by Nevaeh herself. "When you fall asleep, do you hear my heart beating? Do you hear me breathing? Giggling? Crying? You were once 5 just like me. Tell me, did I deserve this?"

Pittsburgh attorney Joseph Starkey, Jr., co-chairman of Justice for Nevaeh, said the group decided it was time to step up its campaign to find out how Nevaeh vanished May 24, 2009, outside the Monroe apartment complex where she lived with her mother and grandmother. Her body was found 11 days later under concrete along the banks of the River Raisin.

Kim Betway, left, of Monroe gets information about child safety from Amy Zarend of the Great Start Collaborative of Monroe during the Nevaeh Buchanan event at the Moose Lodge. Kim Betway, left, of Monroe gets information about child safety from Amy Zarend of the Great Start Collaborative of Monroe during the Nevaeh Buchanan event at the Moose Lodge.
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Some 15 months later, no arrests have been made in the nationally publicized case.

"We needed to think of a way to become a little more provocative, maybe a little more aggressive, understanding that whoever did this doesn't have a conscience - but maybe they do - or maybe someone they know does," Mr. Starkey said.

Justice for Nevaeh has increased its reward for information leading to an arrest in the case to $2,500. With $2,500 from Crime Stoppers of Michigan and $20,000 from law enforcement, the reward adds up to $25,000.

The group held a gathering at the Moose Lodge in Monroe Sunday to distribute the posters, but the event attracted just a handful of people.

Dion Elmore and daughter Alexis, 2�, look through a goody bag she received at the event. Mr. Elmore helped search for Nevaeh. Dion Elmore and daughter Alexis, 2�, look through a goody bag she received at the event. Mr. Elmore helped search for Nevaeh.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The absence of a crowd unsettled Brandi Elmore, who stopped by with her husband, Dion, and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Alexis.

They did not know Nevaeh or her family, Ms. Elmore said, but helped search for the missing girl each evening after work until Nevaeh was found.

"It seems like people are forgetting. It's going to the back burner," Ms. Elmore said. "No matter where you live in Monroe, it happened in your backyard."

As Alexis played with a tiny stuffed kitten handed out at the event, her mother said Nevaeh's disappearance and killing were unsettling particularly because their daughter was just a year old at the time.

"We both went to the funeral. I needed closure," she recalled. "It was very hard, and when you've been searching for 11 days, that becomes part of your life."

Like the Elmores, neither Mr. Starkey nor Risa Thompson, co-chairman of the Justice for Nevaeh group, ever met the young girl.

Although Ms. Thompson is a distant cousin of Nevaeh's father, she said she was drawn to help out simply as an admittedly overprotective mother.

"She captured my heart from the beginning," said Ms. Thompson, of Garden City, Mich.

She said her group has distributed about 5,000 posters every month since it was established a year ago. Members plan to keep working to make sure the case is not forgotten.

"I will never give up," Ms. Thompson said. "If it's the last breath I take, I will still seek justice."

Justice For Nevaeh has raised money for the reward and for a scholarship fund for students at the Monroe Public Schools preschool that Nevaeh attended.

Mr. Starkey said all other costs, including printing posters, are borne by the group's members.

"This is a group of genuinely concerned citizens that want to see this case solved," he said. "… Our hope is that people don't get bored with us. I don't want people to say, 'Not them again.' I want people to say, 'Boy, those people really care.'"

The new posters conclude with a plea to call 734-457-6713, which is the Nevaeh Buchanan Task Force at the Monroe County Sheriff's Department.

"Tell them what you did or what you know so that we all can rest in peace," the poster reads. "[Signed,] Nevaeh."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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