Maleah Davis case: Body found in Arkansas identified as missing 4-year-old

Authorities in Harris County, Texas, confirmed Monday that a body found last week in Arkansas has been determined to be that of missing Houston 4-year-old Maleah Davis.

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Maleah’s mother told authorities she left her daughter with her then-fiance,  26-year-old Derion Vence, while she was out of town last month attending a funeral. Vence told police he, Maleah and his 2-year-old son were abducted by three men who later let him and his son go. However, Sugar Land police, who initially interviewed him, said his story kept changing and didn’t add up.

Vence was arrested May 11 on charges related to Maleah’s disappearance.

Here are the latest updates:

Update 12:15 p.m. EDT June 3: Houston police Chief Art Acevedo vowed Monday that his department "will not rest until justice is served" in the investigation into Maleah's death.

Acevedo said in a statement that officers will continue to work with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to hold the person or people responsible for Maleah’s death “accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

“We are all saddened by the confirmation of the identification of the remains brought home to Houston by members of the Houston Police Department as Maleah Davis,” Acevedo said. “However, we are heartened by the fact this sweet child can now receive the proper burial she deserved and that those who knew and loved her most desired.”

Maleah’s remains were found Friday in Arkansas after a community activist told police the suspect in the case, Maleah’s mother’s ex-boyfriend Derion Vence, admitted to disposing of her body in the area.

Update 11:05 a.m. EDT June 3: The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences identified the body found Friday in Arkansas as Maleah, according to multiple reports.

The Houston Chronicle reported Maleah's cause and manner of death were not immediately determined.

Authorities found her remains near a freeway outside of Hope, Arkansas, after Derion Vence, the man who had been arrested in connection with Maleah's disappearance, told a community activist he had disposed of her body there.

Update 2:54 a.m. EDT June 1: While Houston police say they believe the remains of a child found in southwest Arkansas on Friday may be 4-year-old Maleah Davis, they are still waiting for confirmation, CNN reported.

"Do we believe that it's possibly her? Yes. But can we confirm it right now? No," Houston Police Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner told reporters. "If it's not Maleah, it's somebody's child.”

The child's identity is pending an autopsy, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Update 8:30 pm EDT May 31: The remains of a child were found Friday near a freeway in Arkansas where a community activist says a man told him he had dumped the body of a missing 4-year-old Houston girl, police told the Associated Press Friday.

Houston police went to Arkansas on Friday after community activist Quanell X told authorities the man arrested in connection with the disappearance of Maleah Davis confessed he disposed of her body there just before he reported her missing in early May.

Houston Police Commander Michael Skillern, one of the officers who traveled to Arkansas, told reporters that authorities had found a child’s remains in a garbage bag near Interstate 30 close to Hope.

Quanell X said he spoke on Friday in jail with Derion Vence, the ex-fiance of Maleah’s mother, who had claimed Maleah was abducted. Quanell X said that Vence told him he dumped her body in Arkansas.

Sheriff James Singleton in Arkansas’ Hempstead County said workers found the bag, which had a foul odor coming from it, near Hope, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of the Texas-Arkansas border.

Singleton said the medical examiner’s office in Little Rock likely will have to identify the remains.

Update 5:15 pm EDT May 13: The first court appearance for the suspect in the disappearance of 4-year-old Maleah Davis was rescheduled to July 10.

Derion Vance has only been charged with tampering with evidence in the case at this point.

While in court Monday for the postponement of the first court appearance, the little girl's mother, Brittany Bowens, was swarmed by protesters, according to the Houston Chronicle.

At least a dozen people wearing T-shirts with "Justice for Maleah" slogans yelled questions at Bowens, the Chronicle reported.

“Why isn’t she locked up?” someone yelled.

As Bowens tried to leave the courthouse, the protesters chanted “Justice for Maleah” and followed her out to the street.

Some of  the protesters reportedly alleged Bowens was complicit in the girl’s death, although police have not yet confirmed the child was killed, nor have they found her body.

Update 6:44 a.m. EDT May 13: The last images of Maleah Davis alive have been released, KTRK reported.

Images taken on April 30 was the same day her mother left Houston to attend a funeral.

Vence can be seen bringing Maleah to the family's apartment. Days later, on May 3, officials said Vence was seen on video leaving the home with his son and a laundry basket that held a black garbage bag, KTRK reported.


A neighbor told KTRK she saw Vence on his patio on May 4, at a time that he allegedly told police he was knocked out along a road in Sugar Land.

"He was standing inside his porch smoking and he looked at us," Jannia Soto told the television station. "He saw us, and he didn't have no bruise or nothing on his forehead."

Meanwhile, the community came out to remember the little girl on Mother’s Day. The group Parents Against Predators organized a balloon release then marched to the building where Vence a lived.

Update 10:45 p.m. EDT May 12: As Derion Vence sits in a Houston jail, homicide investigators revealed that blood found in Vence's apartment has been linked to his missing stepdaughter Maleah Davis, according to the Houston Chronicle, which cited charging documents.

Authorities said they found drops of blood in a bathroom and hallway of the home Vence shares with the little girl’s mother, Brittany Bowens, the Chronicle reported.

Blood analysis “showed that the major component is consistent with being from a person who is the maternal offspring of Brittany Bowens,” investigators said.

Cadaver dogs also reportedly alerted to the scent of decomposition in a search of Vence’s car, police said.

Vence was arrested Saturday and charged with “tampering with evidence - human corpse.” He’s jailed on a $1 million bond.


Update 9 a.m. EDT May 12: Houston police released a new mugshot of Vence, 26, last night. KTRK reported he was arrested by the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force at a relative's house in Sugar Land, Texas.


The Houston Chronicle reported that Vence made his first court appearance Saturday. His bond is set at $1 million.

According to KTRK, investigators do not believe Maleah is still alive, although officials have not confirmed if she died.

Update 7:10 p.m. EDT May 11: Houston police have now arrested Derion Vence, the stepfather of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis.

Vence, 26, is charged with tampering with evidence and arrested at a relative's home in Sugar Land Saturday morning, Houston police officials said in a news release.


Vence told police that the little girl was abducted by three Hispanic males who stole his Nissan, but released him and his 2-year-old son.

"Although Vence reported his silver Nissan Altima was taken in the abduction, surveillance video showed someone in that Nissan Altima dropped Vence off at the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on May 5," a day after Davis was reportedly abducted, according to Houston homicide investigators.

"Also, blood evidence obtained from Vence's apartment has been linked to Maleah. Vence was also observed carrying a full laundry basket from the apartment," police officials said.

Vence’s silver Nissan Altima was found on Thursday in Missouri City, Texas, with the laundry basket and a gas can in the trunk.

Police are still searching for the little girl and are asking for the public’s help in finding her.

Update 1:10 p.m. EDT May 9: A tipster called authorities Thursday after spotting the silver Nissan Altima allegedly stolen during Maleah's reported kidnapping Saturday.

Houston police Officer Ken Fregia said a taxi cab driver spotted the vehicle parked in Missouri City. Police later determined the car’s license plates matched the one reported stolen.


Fregia said officers have glanced inside the car, which was unlocked when authorities found it, but that it “looks normal.”

“There’s no obvious signs of anything (having happened) in the car,” Fregia said. “At first glance there’s no ... signs of anything in the car right now.”

He said the vehicle will be towed from the area so that police can conduct a full sweep of the car, looking for fingerprints and “just (going) over it with a fine-toothed comb.”

“We’re trying to look at the (surveillance) video to see when it was dropped off,” he said.

Fregia said police haven’t been able to coordinate a time to meet with Maleah’s stepfather, Darion Vence, to get a police sketch drawn up of the alleged kidnappers. He declined to say whether he was a person of interest in the investigation.

“I would like to to talk to him, but right now I’m not concerned that we haven’t,” he said.

Authorities continue to search for a blue pickup truck connected to the case.


Update 11:30 p.m. EDT May 8: The search and rescue organization Texas EquuSearch suspended its search Wednesday for missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis. 

The group will resume looking for the child Thursday morning, according to a post on social media.

Texas EquuSearch officials said finding the  vehicle the little girl was in when she disappeared is a top priority. Earlier Wednesday, police released photos of the Nissan Altima that her stepfather was driving when the girl was allegedly abducted and the car stolen.

The group’s founder, Tim Miller , said they conducted an aerial search near the Brazos River Wednesday, but didn’t find any new leads in the case, according to KPRC-TV

Meanwhile, another group , including the girl’s mother and hundreds of other volunteers, handed out flyers in the area around the family’s southwest Houston apartment.

Update 2:35 p.m. EDT May 8: Police released new images Wednesday of the  stolen silver Nissan Altima from which Maleah was allegedly taken.


The search for Maleah was suspended Tuesday due to inclement weather including heavy flooding, KPRC-TV reported. Police confirmed they weren't searching "specific locations" for Maleah on Wednesday, however, authorities said the investigation remained "very active."


Update 8:20 p.m. EDT May 7: The Houston Police Department issued a statement saying it has not confirmed that Darion Vence, the stepfather of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis, is a person of interest in her disappearance. The department issued the following statement:

“The investigation into the whereabouts of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis remains on-going. HPD customarily doesn't identify persons of interest or suspects unless charges are filed. Any updates will be posted on twitter. No other information is available at this time.”


Update 6:15 p.m. EDT May 7: Houston Police say Darion Vence, the stepfather of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis, is now a person of interest in her disappearance, a source reportedly told KRIV. Vence was the last person who saw Maleah before she went missing Friday, according to investigators.

Related: Amber Alert: Missing Texas girl, 4, may have been kidnapped by 3 men, police say

Officials said Vence told them he, Maleah and his 2-year-old son were abducted by three men in a blue Chevrolet truck. Vence said one of the men knocked him out and when he regained consciousness, Maleah and Vence’s car, a silver Nissan, was missing.

Houston police Sgt. Mark Holbrook said Vence has "a lot of blanks" in his story, CNN reported. Officials are seeking the help of the public for more information.

Original report: A missing Texas girl whose stepfather told police that she was kidnapped by three men had been removed from her home last August during an abuse investigation, officials said Monday.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Child Protective Services placed 4-year-old Maleah Davis and her brothers, ages 5 and 1, in state custody after receiving a report that the girl had suffered a head injury caused by "possible physical abuse," officials said.

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A family member cared for the children until they were returned to mother Brittany Bowens' home in February, KTRK-TV reported. CPS officials have been visiting the home "at least once a month," agency spokeswoman Tiffani Butler told the Chronicle.

Bowens told KTRK that a fall had caused Maleah's injury. Police said the girl has since had multiple brain surgeries.

"My spirit is so broken," she said Monday in an interview with the TV station. "I feel so lost. I can't concentrate. I can't focus. It's so overwhelming for me. It doesn't seem real."

"My spirit is so broken, I feel so lost. I can't concentrate, I can't focus. It's so overwhelming for me. It doesn't seem real," Brittany Bowens, Maleah's mom, said tearfully. An Amber Alert was issued Sunday for her daughter who was possibly taken by 3 men. Stefania Okolie spoke to her exclusively:

Posted by ABC13 Houston on Monday, May 6, 2019

Meanwhile, Texas EquuSearch volunteers launched an "active search" for the girl after Houston police requested their help, the organization said.

The developments came one day after the search for Maleah sparked national headlines.

Related: Amber Alert: Missing Texas girl, 4, may have been kidnapped by 3 men, police say

On Sunday, Houston police told reporters that Maleah's stepfather, Darion Vence, said he, Maleah and his toddler son were heading to the Houston airport Friday night to pick up Bowens when Vence pulled over to investigate a "popping noise." Moments later, three Hispanic men in a blue Chevy pickup pulled over, as well, Vence told investigators.

Vence said one of the men knocked him out, while another said Maleah "looks very nice, looks very sweet," according to Houston police Sgt. Mark Holbrook.

>> See a photo of Vence here

Vence told police that he briefly regained consciousness in the back of the truck, saw the men and children, then blacked out again until 6 p.m. Saturday, the Chronicle reported. The men then left Vence and Kourtland near a highway in Sugar Land before fleeing with Maleah, Vence said.

Vence said he and his son walked along Highway 6 seeking help until they finally reached a hospital after 10 p.m. Saturday. He reported the incident to authorities, who issued an Amber Alert for Maleah on Sunday morning.

Maleah, who is black, stands about 3 feet tall, weighs 30 to 40 pounds, and has black hair and brown eyes, police said. At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a pink hair bow, a light blue jacket and blue jeans with gray, white and pink sneakers, authorities said. Officials initially said Maleah was 5 years old, but they issued a correction Monday saying she is 4.

Authorities also said the vehicle Vence had been driving, a 2011 Nissan Altima that belongs to Bowens, is missing. The silver car has temporary tag number 330-92G9.

Vence is not considered a suspect in the case, police said.

If you have information about the case, please call 713-308-3600 or 713-222-TIPS.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.