Hempstead County, AR – Authorities are trying to determine if human remains found in a bloody trash bag alongside an highway in Arkansas are that of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis.
Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton said Friday that a road cleanup crew had noticed the bag by Interstate 30 a couple days earlier but they had left it alone, the Houston Chronicle reported.
On Friday, a lawnmower crew encountered the bag, which was emitting a foul odor.
"One of the machines hit the bag and tore it open," Sheriff Singleton said.
The contents of the bag, which included bones, were strewn over a large area by the mower, KTRK reported.
Maleah’s mother’s boyfriend Derion Vence, described as Maleah's stepfather, is the suspect in the little girl’s disappearance.
He reportedly confessed to local New Black Panther Party leader Quanell X that he had killed the child and dumped her body in Arkansas, the Houston Chronicle reported.
"He says it was an accident. And he confessed to me where he dumped her body," the activist told reporters outside the jail. "He felt like he was just totally overwhelmed, because Brittany wasn't being the mother she should be being.”
"He said he pulled over in Arkansas, got out of the car, walked off the side of the road, and dumped her body off the side of the road," Quanell said.
Brittany Bowen, Maleah’s mother, was out of town when the incident occurred.
Vence originally 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 Sergeant Mark Holbrook said during a press conference shortly after the four-year-old was reported missing.
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 Vence 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 one-year-old son Courtland.
He told police there were three men in the truck at that point.
Vence 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.
But Vence’s account of what occurred changed several times during questioning, police said.
First, hospital surveillance video showed the man being dropped off at the hospital in the car he had told police was stolen when Maleah was taken.
Then security footage from his apartment complex showed Vence leaving the complex with his one-year-old son on May 3. He was also carrying a laundry basket with a black trash bag stuffed inside.
"During the initial interview, the man's story did change several times and some of what he told us just didn't add up," Sugar Land Police Spokesperson Doug Adolph said on May 8, according to KTRK.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DPS) has also confirmed that Maleah and her brothers – ages one and five – were removed from the home in 2018 due to reports of physical abuse, after Maleah suffered a severe head injury, KTRK reported.
Bowens claimed that investigators determined her daughter’s injuries were caused by a fall.
After Vence allegedly confessed to Quanell, local, state, and federal law enforcement officers converged on an area near an exit ramp in Hope where they believed the trash bag might have been dumped, KTAL reported.
Sheriff Singleton initially said that authorities planned to take Vence to Arkansas so he could help them locate Maleah’s body, but after the announcement about the bag hit by the lawnmower was made, those plans were changed.
Vence remains in jail, being held without bond, where he has been since May 11 when he was charged with tampering with evidence after detectives determined that blood found in the family’s apartment Maleah’s DNA, KTAL reported.