The remains of a child’s body recovered in Arkansas last week have been positively identified as those of missing Texas girl Maleah Davis, 4, the medical examiner’s office announced Monday.
Her cause and manner of death are pending, a public information officer for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston told NBC News.
The heartbreaking update ends a month-long search for the girl and comes just days after authorities in Fulton, Arkansas, said a road crew found a trash bag with a foul odor. Remains, including blood and bones, were found inside.
Houston police moved their search to the southwest Arkansas city, nearly 310 miles from Houston, after community activist Quanell X told reporters the suspect in the disappearance, 27-year-old Derion Vence, had confessed that Maleah died by accident and that he’d dumped her body in Arkansas.
Quanell was a spokesman and vocal advocate for Maleah’s mom, Brittany Bowens, but cut ties with Bowens in May after he said he had reason to believe she wasn’t being truthful about the case.
On Friday, the activist said he met with Vence, who’s been jailed since May 11, earlier that day and had gleaned a confession from him. Among the key details Quanell shared with reporters, the activist said the 4-year-old was dead as a result of an accident.
He didn’t give details on how she died.
“All I can say is he told me it was an accident, and that she is dead and where he dumped her body,” Quanell said at the press conference.
Davis was reported missing May 4 after Vence, her mother’s former fiancé, claimed she was kidnapped in an alleged carjacking the previous night. He told police he’d stopped to check his tire when suddenly he was attacked by three Latino men.
Vence, 27, claimed he was beaten unconscious and woke up to find his car and the little girl gone.
At last week’s news conference, Quanell indicated that the Houston man had dumped Maleah’s body in Arkansas “early on,” suggesting it happened shortly after he first reported the girl missing, according to Houston station ABC 13. The activist added that Vence was specific about the “distance and time” of where he discarded Maleah’s remains.
“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.
In a statement, the Houston Police Department said while it is saddened the remains were confirmed to be Maleah’s, it is “heartened by the fact that this sweet child can now receive the proper burial she deserved.”
The department also said it plans to continue working the case to ensure justice in the little girl’s death.
“The Houston Police Department will continue to work diligently with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and other partners to ensure the person(s) responsible for her death, and the attempted cover-up of her death, are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” the statement read.
Police arrested Vence in connection to the girl’s disappearance on May 11 after investigators said they found traces of blood matching DNA from Maleah’s toothbrush inside the family’s Houston-area apartment. He remains jailed on charges of tampering with evidence, namely a corpse.
The girl’s mother, who was out of town for a funeral when Maleah, 4, went missing, said she had suspicions Vence was abusing her daughter but didn’t want to believe he was linked to her disappearance.
Court documents show Child Protective Services removed Maleah and her siblings from the home Bowens and Vence shared after the girl suffered a head injury that was the result of “possible physical abuse.” The children were returned to the home in February, according to an agency spokesman.
No enhanced charges have been announced against Vence, but authorities said they expect a murder charge in the case.
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