HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Derion Vence, the man who authorities say was the last person to see missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis, has been charged with tampering with evidence, namely a corpse, in the disappearance, a law enforcement source tells ABC13.
Houston police said the 26-year-old was taken into custody Saturday at a relative’s home in Sugar Land by the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force.
While the charge states “tampering with evidence, namely a corpse,” law enforcement officials have not yet confirmed whether the girl died. However, investigators do not think Maleah is still alive.
A law enforcement source also tells Eyewitness News that Maleah was last seen alive on surveillance video in her family’s apartment complex on April 30, the same day her mother left town for a funeral. Cameras captured Vence bringing her back into their family apartment that morning.
Following that morning, investigators say he was never seen with her.
On May 3, cameras captured Vence leaving the apartment with his 1-year-old son, a laundry basket, and a black trash bag inside. Police stated there is blood evidence from the apartment linked to Maleah.
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On Saturday, Houston police added the laundry basket was found along with a gas can in the trunk of the vehicle that Vence reported stolen. The vehicle was recovered in the Missouri City area on Thursday.
Police also revealed the same vehicle was seen on surveillance video on May 5 at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, where someone dropped off Vence. It was there that Vence first made the claim that he was attacked and that Maleah may have been kidnapped.
Texas EquuSearch volunteers have been looking for Maleah since the story of her abduction as told to police by Vence.
Vence reported that on the night of May 3, he was on his way to Bush Intercontinental Airport with Maleah and his 1-year-old son to pick up the girl’s mother, Brittany Bowens.
He said that he pulled over near Greens Road and Highway 59 to check his tires because he heard a popping noise.
As Vence was checking his vehicle, he claims three Hispanic men in a 2010 blue Chevrolet crew cab pickup truck pulled up.
During a press conference, police said Vence told them he was ambushed by the men, with one of them hitting him on the head, and he lost consciousness.
The next thing he knew, Vence said he woke up on the side of Highway 6 near First Colony Mall around 6 p.m. May 4. His son was with him, but Maleah was not.
Police said Vence went to Houston Methodist Hospital in Sugar Land around 11 p.m. to seek treatment for his injuries with his son.
Vence said she was last seen in the 16500 block of the Southwest Freeway on May 4.
Meanwhile, Bowens had another family member pick her up from the airport when Vence and the children didn’t arrive.
She told ABC13 a police report was filed Saturday morning after not hearing from Vence.
On Monday, Texas EquuSearch crews began to look for Maleah in the area of Greens Road and Highway 59, where Vence said he and his family were first approached.
The Houston Police Department requested the immediate help of the group, who has been searching on foot and by ATV.
“I’m choked up right now thinking about her,” Miller told ABC13. “I’ve been on these cases before. If it doesn’t touch your heart, and you don’t get emotional, you’re just not human.”
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Time is of the essence in the search. Maleah has had several brain surgeries and requires medications and constant care.
Monday night, ABC13 learned the child was recently returned to her home after CPS removed her last August.
According to CPS officials, the girl and her two siblings – 5-year-old and 1-year-old boys – were removed as the agency investigated allegations of physical abuse related to her head injury.
The three siblings were brought back in February.
In an exclusive interview with ABC13 Eyewitness News, Bowens said it was determined a fall was the cause of the girl’s injuries.
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Maleah has still not been found.
She was wearing a pink bow in her hair, a light blue zip jacket, blue jeans and gray, white and pink sneakers.
She is described as an African-American female with black hair and brown eyes. She stands 3 feet tall and weighs 30 to 40 pounds.
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Bowens told ABC13 on Monday that she’s terrified for her daughter.
“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,” Bowens said tearfully.
Family members were out in the Sugar Land area handing out fliers on Monday, with people who didn’t even know Maleah joining in to help.
“Anything helps. Share a post, share a flier, anything. It is greatly appreciated and I mean that from my heart, I mean that with every bit of me,” Bowens said.
“She cried, and it hurt my soul, so I couldn’t do anything but pray with her and pray and ask God to bring this baby home. We are walking by faith and not by sight,” volunteer Sterling Nichols said.
Nearly a week after the reported disappearance, authorities tracked down the vehicle that Vence drove before Maleah disappeared. He told authorities that it had been stolen.
Investigators searched the Nissan Altima, but found no visible evidence inside of it. They said there was nothing suspicious inside of the car, and that it looked normal, meaning that there are no obvious signs of anything unusual.
Car belonging to Maleah Davis’ family appears ‘normal’, yields no clues to her disappearance
Then, Bowens levied a bombshell allegation against Vence, accusing him of abusing the girl.
The accusation came in combination with the release of surveillance photos showing Vence before and after the girl disappeared.
Anyone with information on Maleah Davis’ whereabouts is urged to contact HPD at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.
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