Last known image shows Houston girl before her disappearance
In the last known image of her before she disappeared May 3, Maleah Davis is seen following her stepfather into their southwest Houston apartment, reports CBS affiliate KHOU. Law enforcement sources provided the image of the four-year-old girl to the station.
The April 30 surveillance image shows Derion Vence entering the apartment complex where he lives with the girl and her mother. Maleah is seen steps behind him, but she was never seen exiting the apartment. Vence has been charged with tampering with evidence related to a human corpse. The child has not been found.
Additional photos obtained by Houston TV station KTRK reportedly show Vence leaving the apartment three days later while carrying what prosecutors describe as a blue laundry basket with a garbage bag and bottles of bleach.
Prosecutors said investigators found a blue laundry basket and a gas can inside a car Vence claims was stolen from him by three men with Maleah still inside. Vence initially reported his stepdaughter missing after he showed up May 4 at a hospital in Sugar Land. He told police he had been in and out of consciousness over the previous 24 hours and had walked there after coming to on a highway that runs through the region.
The car was found abandoned last week. Prosecutors said cadaver dogs detected the scent of human remains inside it.
The 26-year-old Vence was arrested Saturday after investigators found new clues inside the apartment: drops of blood linked to Maleah along with evidence that someone tried to clean it up.
Police said Vence has changed his story about Maleah’s disappearance multiple times. He is in jail on a $45,000 bond, which was reduced from $1 million Monday, according to KHOU. Vence has been appointed a defense attorney.
The assistant district attorney in Harris County said there is a “substantial likelihood” that Vence will face additional charges. Investigators have not publicly said whether they believe Vence killed Maleah, reports CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.
Brittany Bowens, Maleah Davis’s mother, was yelled at Monday following a canceled court hearing for Vence. Outside a Houston courtroom, Quanell X, a community activist and spokesman for Bowens, told reporters Bowens’s main concern is finding out what happened to Maleah. He has alleged that Vence may have abused Maleah.
But as Quanell X spoke, he was drowned out by a group, including family members of Maleah’s father, who yelled “justice for Maleah” and “murderer.”
Quanell X has described Vence as Bowen’s ex-fiancé and said Bowens recently called off the engagement, reports Villareal.
“When that happened, I believe that he psychologically snapped – already on top of being abusive to Maleah. He did this to hurt the mother in a way that she would never recover,” Quanell X said.
In August, Maleah and her two brothers were removed from the home and placed in the care of relatives after Maleah suffered a head injury that eventually led to her having multiple brain surgeries, according to Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Tiffani Butler. Doctors said they were told by the child’s parents that Maleah fell off a chair into a marble table, but the injury didn’t match the explanation, according to family court records obtained by KHOU. Further medical review uncovered a previous head injury that wasn’t reported, court records revealed.
Child welfare workers were called in on a report alleging physical abuse and neglect, and the children were removed from the home over concerns for their safety. A court couldn’t determine whether the injuries were the result of abuse.
The children were returned in February but officially remained in state custody and were checked on by a caseworker each month, Butler said. The parents were ordered to take parenting classes, but it’s unclear whether that occurred. They were due back in a family court later this month.
During an emergency hearing last Wednesday, Maleah’s two brothers, 1 and 5, were placed in the custody of family and Vence and Bowens were ordered to have no contact with them, KHOU reported.
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