Dennis Kequom, chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, spoke to hundreds of people gathered Thursday night at a vigil for Carnel Chamberlain at the reservation in Isabella County, 70 miles north of Lansing. Family spokesman Kevin Chamberlain said the child's body was found earlier in the day under a wood porch or deck at the home where he lived with his mother and her boyfriend.
Carnel "didn't have time to grow up and enjoy life," the chief said at the vigil, adding: "He'll always be with us in our hearts."
Federal authorities were silent on the case early Friday, and the tribe was expected to hold a news conference in the afternoon.
Kevin Chamberlain, the tribe's former chief who is a cousin of Carnel's mother, Jaimee Chamberlain, said he had no details about what led investigators back to the house after many days of searching woods, ponds and the tribe's wastewater treatment areas.
The body "had to be in a grave. We had looked underneath before and didn't see anything," he said.
Carnel disappeared June 21 while in the care of his mother's boyfriend. Police have said the boyfriend wasn't very cooperative during the search and has consulted a lawyer.
Tribal police had been leading the investigation. On Thursday, they referred calls to the FBI, which declined to comment. Any charges in the case would be handled by federal authorities, who have jurisdiction over major crimes on Indian reservations.
Messages seeking information on the case were sent early Friday to an FBI spokesman and a U.S. attorney's office in Michigan.
The vigil was attended by Jaimee Chamberlain, relatives and others. People sang, played drums and spoke urging love and healing in the face of tragedy.