The search for Nevaeh Buchanan officially ended today as the Michigan State Police crime lab in Northville positively identified the body found last week in a shallow grave as the missing 5-year-old Monroe girl.

DNA testing results concluded that Nevaeh indeed was found by fishermen Thursday beneath a layer of concrete along the River Raisin in Raisinville Township, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said this afternoon.

Investigators did not release a cause of death, nor is anyone in custody. The girl disappeared May 24 from her apartment complex.

Though Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said Friday that the girl found near the river likely was Nevaeh, family members held out hope the girl might still be alive.

Cathy DeWilde, Nevaeh’s great-aunt, said the news today devastated her sister Sherry Buchanan, who is Nevaeh’s grandmother and her legal custodian.

“I knew it, and my husband knew it, but I couldn’t get it across to my sister because she raised the baby,” said DeWilde, 55, of Monroe. “I was just praying to the Lord that they’d send someone to find the body so we could bring her home.”

Funeral arrangements will be handled by Merkle Funeral Home, 2442 N. Monroe, Monroe.

Meanwhile, the death has earned the dubious honor of being priority No.1 for State Police forensic analysts.

Capt. Michael Thomas, director of the State Police forensic division, said Nevaeh’s case leapfrogged thousands of others backlogged for months — hundreds of them homicides — because of its “sensitive nature.”

“There’s someone out there who might have killed a little girl,” Thomas said. “She is the top priority.” (What about all the anonymous missing little girls? Are they not as important?)

Family members gathered this evening in the Monroe apartment where Nevaeh lived with her mother, Jennifer Buchanan, and her grandmother and legal guardian, Sherry Buchanan. Relatives said both women aren’t surprised by the identification, but they’re still heartbroken.

Diana Lawson, a great-aunt of Nevaeh and one of Sherry Buchanan’s sisters, came outside holding a stack of photographs of Nevaeh showing her at Halloween and at other moments of her young life.

“Deep inside, it’s killing me,” Lawson said as she held up a photo of Nevaeh hugging a stuffed animal. “I wish she was here to hug me instead.

“My heart’s just dying right now.”

Nevaeh disappeared May 24. Thomas said forensic analysts next will tackle evidence taken from the gravesite found by two fishermen and from Nevaeh’s body. That analysis will take weeks, he said, which he acknowledged means that thousands of other cases will be put on hold because of dwindling resources and a backlog that has packed the state’s seven crime labs with so much evidence that facilities are overflowing.

On top of the 110,000 cases the State Police handles for 650 agencies, it also is handling an estimated 20,000 cases annually out of Detroit, because the city’s crime lab shut down last year.

“Every lab in the state is behind because each is handling cases from Detroit,” Thomas said.

He said things will get worse in coming months because the labs will be shut down for six days to save the state money as part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s budget furlough program. Also, beginning next month, anyone arrested on suspicion of a crime will be required to submit to DNA testing under state law.

Meanwhile, two convicted sex offenders out on parole who had been labeled as people of interest in Nevaeh’s case have been sent back to prison to finish their original sentences, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. George Kennedy, 39, and Roy Smith, 48, violated their paroles by being in contact with Jennifer Buchanan, Nevaeh’s mother, said John Cordell, a department spokesman. Neither was supposed to have contact with anyone who had children.