HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The remains of Maleah Davis have been identified, authorities said Monday.
Located in Arkansas on Friday during a search, the remains now have been positively identified as those of the missing 4-year-old girl, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said.
The cause and manner of her death are still pending, according to the forensic institute.
Maleah was reported missing in early May by her mother’s former fiancé, Derion Vence. Vence initially told police that Maleah had been abducted by a group of men — but investigators found signs of decay in his car and blood evidence in his apartment.
Earlier Friday, Houston police had said child remains found in a bag in southwest Arkansas might belong to Maleah.
What led police to Arkansas
The search for Maleah moved to Arkansas after Vence allegedly confessed to Quanell, who visited him in jail Friday, that he dumped Maleah’s body there.
“One thing he wanted to make clear to me was (that) what happened to Maleah was an accident. He says it was an accident. And he confessed to me where he dumped the body,” the activist told KTRK.
Quanell said Vence told him he pulled over in Arkansas, got out of his car and dumped the body off the road.
Houston police detectives along with a search and rescue teams immediately headed to Arkansas. Houston police requested that local authorities begin searching near Hope, a town about 30 miles northeast of the Texas-Arkansas border.
A roadside mowing crew spotted a garbage bag emitting a foul odor near Hope, which contained the remains of a child, Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton told KTAL.
A community mourns
Meanwhile, the Houston apartment the 4-year-old girl was last seen entering is filled with posters, unicorns and flowers. Almost everything is pink, her favorite color.
The home’s entrance is decorated with teddy bears, candles, posters signed by hundreds of neighbors and toys, KTRK reported.
Mothers across the area visit the memorial, many holding back tears.
“Every time I walk out from my apartment what I see is where she used to live,” Jania Soto said. “It’s hard.”
A changing storyline
At the beginning of May, Vence told police he was driving with the young girl and his toddler son in the car when he heard a loud noise and pulled over. A group of men pulled up behind him, he said, and knocked him unconscious for nearly 24 hours. When he woke up, Vence claimed he was on the side of a road with his son, but Maleah was gone.
He said he walked to a nearby hospital, where he received treatment for his injuries and reported Maleah missing. But as detectives began collecting evidence, the man’s account began to fall apart.
Video shows Vence was dropped off at the hospital in the car he claims was stolen. Investigators also collected blood from his apartment that was “consistent’ with DNA taken from Maleah’s toothbrush.
Investigators also viewed footage captured from the porch of an apartment next to Vence’s, according to the affidavit.
The footage shows Maleah entering the apartment, but she never comes back out. Instead, Vence is seen leaving the apartment on May 3 carrying a large blue laundry basket with a black trash bag inside. He returned a few minutes later and walked out of the apartment carrying cleaning supplies, including bleach, according to court documents.
Suspect wouldn’t let Maleah’s father see her
Earlier this week, Maleah’s father said in court he tried to see his daughter hours before she was reported missing, but Vence wouldn’t allow it, KTRK reported.
Craig Davis, the child’s father, and his sister went to the apartment where Maleah lived with Vence and her mother to check on the young girl, Davis said during a Wednesday court hearing.
Vence did not let them in, saying Maleah had the flu, and denied their request to see her as she was sleeping, Davis testified.
Efforts to reach Vence’s attorney have been unsuccessful.