Flint, MI -- April 9, 2001 -- A body found in a drainage ditch along Stanley Road appears to be that of Cierra Nelson, the 10-year-old girl who disappeared from her northwest Flint neighborhood four months ago, police say. Although they are awaiting autopsy results to officially determine the identity, items found at the scene match what Cierra was wearing when she disappeared Thanksgiving weekend.
A Mt. Morris Township resident and her daughter discovered the body in a drainage ditch about 1/4 mile west of Linden Road about 3 p.m., township police said.
Police described the body as that of a young black female, 10 to 12 years old, said Township Police Chief Eric King. Although the body has not been formally identified by dental records or other scientific examination, the clothing and other items match the description of that which Cierra was wearing when she disappeared - blue jeans, white tennis shoes, a red sweater and two barrettes in her hair.
King said the woman who discovered the body was walking with her daughter along Stanley Road when they noticed something in the ditch. She approached the body, not sure what it was, and then went home to get her husband. They came back and discovered it was a body, King said, and then called police. The body was partly submerged in about 2 feet of water.
The area is a rural-suburban neighborhood, marked by several houses, cornfields and a farm.
The state police crime lab, along with FBI agents and Flint police, came to the scene to collect evidence.
Cierra attended Lawndale Elementary, where she was an honor student. Staff at the school were struggling with the news.
"A couple of teachers heard it on the radio," said Olga May-Henley, a second-grade teacher who had Cierra in after-school choir and drama programs.
May-Henley, who was shaken by the news, said crisis counselors will be needed at the school, once the remains have been identified.
"The kids have not forgotten," she said. "We still have a few pictures of her posted around the building.
"There were a lot of girls she was close to. I'm sure they will take it pretty hard today.
"We had a little bit (last week) when they found the other (remains). "Those remains, discovered in the township, turned out to be those of a black woman in her 30s. The identity of that person is still unknown.
Cierra disappeared on the afternoon of Nov. 26 after leaving a friend's house.
Tracking dogs, search parties and a state police helicopter equipped with infrared equipment were all used in the effort to find her.
Hundreds of mourners packed a township church to say goodbye to Cierra Nelson, the 10-year-old Flint girl whose disappearance captivated the community for more than three months.
Well-wishers filed past the closed white and gold casket, framed by flower arrangements and yellow, blue and pink balloons, before the noon service at New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church on E. Carpenter Road.
A succession of speakers quoted from Scripture and talked of finding closure from the tragedy, which ended when Cierra's body was found in a Mt. Morris Township ditch 11 days ago.
"Heaven has a new angel with the passing of Cierra," one speaker said, reading a resolution prepared by Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.
After the 80-minute service, Cierra was buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery in Flushing Township. Balloons from the service were released during a brief graveside ceremony.
Cierra, a fourth-grader at Flint's Lawndale Elementary School, last was seen alive Nov. 26 while walking home from a friend's house.
Her body was found April 8 in a ditch along Stanley Road, west of Linden Road, by two people walking. Autopsy results were not disclosed, but Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur A. Busch said Cierra died from a violent act.
Evidence from the scene is being analyzed. Police have eliminated one suspect and are looking at another in the abduction and murder, Busch said.
Mourners nearly filled the huge church, some of them crying softly during the service. Besides family and friends, the crowd included teachers from Lawndale and several police officials.
A poignant moment came when Cierra's cousin, Jacquella Nelson, and a friend sang "Amazing Grace."
The big turnout was "very comforting," said Jacqueline Nelson, Cierra's aunt.