MONROE, Mich. (AP) – Mourners embraced family members Saturday as they filed past the closed casket of a 5-year-old found buried along a river, paying final respects to a girl described by one of them as “Monroe’s little angel.”

Some 700 people attended the funeral service in Stewart Road Church of God for Nevaeh Buchanan, whose disappearance triggered a massive search by police and residents alike. Her death, still under investigation, cast a shadow of grief over the close-knit, blue-collar city of 22,000. “That one little girl was so powerful, she brought the community together,” said the Rev. Dale Hayford, senior pastor of Crosswalk Community Church, who along with the Rev. Sam Luke officiated at the service.

Two large screens showed a slideshow of photos from Nevaeh’s short life. “Seeing a lot of the pictures from birth until she passed, it hits home,” said 34-year-old Tracey Addington of Dundee, who helped search for Nevaeh. ” … If you have anyone who is around that age, it’s overwhelming.”

The two-hour service included prayers, Christian songs and a performance of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.”

A local music group sang a song written for Nevaeh that concluded, “Because of her, we won’t be the same.”

After the service, a procession led by nine police officers on motorcycles traveled 2 1/2 miles to St. Joseph Cemetery. They were followed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle drawing the hearse bearing Nevaeh’s casket. Next were another 60 motorcycles and about 100 cars, including one carrying Nevaeh’s mother, Jennifer Buchanan, and grandmother Sherry Buchanan.

Some 500 mourners looked on as Hayford and Luke spoke at Nevaeh’s gravesite. The service concluded with funeral director Brian Merkle releasing a white dove into the gray sky.

Nevaeh disappeared from her Monroe apartment complex May 24. Two fishermen found her body June 4 along the River Raisin in Monroe County’s Raisinville Township, 35 miles south of Detroit. The body was covered in cement and appeared to be buried in a shallow grave.

The cause of death has not been determined.

Two men described by investigators as “persons of interest” in the case are in custody and awaiting parole revocation hearings for having associated with Jennifer Buchanan, herself a convicted felon.

During the search for Nevaeh, Lori Rafter of Monroe tied six yellow ribbons and a single white flower to her Ford Focus, signifying her hope that the girl would be found.

“Even though we found her, I couldn’t bring myself to cut them off,” said Rafter, 47, who attended the funeral. “It’s going to take a little bit of time for me to do that. But she’ll always be in the community’s heart. She’s Monroe’s little angel.”

AP-ES-06-13-09 1743EDT

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