Houston, TX – The four-year-old girl who was allegedly kidnapped by a trio of Mexican men on Friday night had been removed from her home in 2018 due to reports of physical abuse.
Police also named the little girl’s stepfather, Darion Vence, as a “person of interest” in her disappearance on Tuesday, KPRC reported.
Maleah Davis, 4, and her five-year-old and one-year-old brothers were placed with a relative in August of 2018, after Maleah suffered a severe head injury, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DPS) said, according to KTRK.
Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowens, said that investigators determined her daughter’s injuries were caused by a fall.
The little girl underwent multiple brain surgeries in order to help the injury heal, Houston Police Sergeant Mark Holbrook said during a press conference on Sunday, according to CNN.
In February, the court ordered that the children be returned to their home, and that DPS check in at the residence at least once per month.
“She’s needed a lot of care,” Sgt. Holbrook said of Maleah. “This week she was sick, too.”
Maleah is described as being approximately three feet tall and weighing between 30 and 40 pounds, according to CNN.
Vence said that when she disappeared, the little girl was wearing a light blue Under Armour jacket, blue jeans, and gray Under Armour tennis shoes with pink and white details.
Although Vence is now being considered as a person of interest, Bowens said she is not questioning his account of how her daughter disappeared, KTRK reported.
“There’s not one thing in my soul that says that he would do that,” she said.
Vence told police he and two of Bowen’s children were driving to the airport to pick her up at about 9 p.m. on May 3 when he heard a sound he believed was his tire popping, so he pulled over, Houston Police Sgt. Holbrook said during a press conference on Monday afternoon.
He claimed that as soon as he stopped the car, a blue pickup truck pulled up next to his vehicle.
Vence said two Hispanic males got out of the truck and started eyeing his stepdaughter, four-year-old Maleah, according to CNN.
Maleah "looks very nice, looks very sweet," one of the men told Vence, according to Sgt. Holbrook.
That’s when the stepfather said the other man cracked him over the head with something and he lost consciousness.
Sgt. Holbrook said Vence told police he woke up some hours later in the back of the men’s truck with Maleah and his year-old son Courtland.
He told police there were three men in the truck at that point.
The stepfather told police he’d gone in and out of consciousness before he eventually woke up with his son on the side of Highway 6 at about 6 p.m. the next day.
He told police Maleah was nowhere in sight when he awoke, the sergeant told reporters.
Vence initially said that he walked to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries and reported Maleah missing.
The 2011 Nissan Altima Vence was driving when he encountered the blue pickup truck has not been found, CNN reported.
Sgt. Holbrook said a traffic camera picked up an image of the silver Nissan Altima crossing through in intersection in Sugar Land just before 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Police said that Maleah’s biological father has also been cooperating with investigators, KTRK reported.
Despite heavy brush, snakes, rain, and mud, law enforcement and Texas EquuSearch volunteers have been looking for Maleah on foot and with ATVs near Greens Road and Highway 59 since Monday.
The search moved to Sugar Land, near Vence’s home, on Tuesday, KRIV reported.
Sugar Land police said that Vence recently changed his story about how he arrived at the hospital.
Initially, he claimed to have walked there, but has since told investigators that someone dropped him off.
"We want to start checking every single dumpster just in case," Texas EquuSearch founder and director Tim Miller told KTRK. "We believe in miracles. Let's hope we get one."
"I'm choked up right now thinking about her," Miller continued. "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."