Dressed in pink, residents of Fulton, Arkansas, gathered by the hundreds Saturday for a vigil honoring the life Houston girl Maleah Davis.
In Houston on Sunday, thousands rallied in remembrance of the young girl and to demand justice in her death.
Davis, 4, was missing for nearly a month before investigators discovered her remains in a garbage bag along the freeway in Fulton on May 31. Her mother’s ex-fiancé, Derion Vence, has been charged in connection to her disappearance.
According to KHOU 11, Saturday’s vigil in Arkansas kicked off around 10 a.m. at the Red River Truck Stop off of I-30, near where Davis’s body was recovered last month. The emotional service, during which several locals spoke, began with a march and ended with a balloon release.
“Maleah was a stranger that came into our hearts,” one community member told the crowd. “And if you look around … she was not, she has not been thrown away in our hearts.”
Another resident took the podium and vowed to “embrace [Maleah] in death the way she should have been embraced in life.”
A memorial continues to grow along the stretch of road where her remains were recovered, the station reported.
The young girl was reported missing May 3 after Vence claimed she was kidnapped during an alleged carjacking by three Hispanic men the night before. He told police he was knocked unconscious during the assault, and awoke to find his car and Maleah gone.
Vence’s story soon unraveled, however, and authorities arrested him after they said they found traces of blood matching DNA from Maleah’s toothbrush in the family’s Houston-area apartment. He later confessed to community activist Quanell X that Maleah’s death was an “accident” and that he had dumped her remains in Arkansas.
Davis’ cause of death is still unknown.
About 310 miles back in Houston, thousands gathered on Sunday to march the city’s downtown streets in memory of the late girl. Starting at 7:34 a.m., the last time Davis was seen alive, demonstrators walked from Houston City Hall to the Harris County Jail where Vence remains in custody on a tampering charge.
Later that night, City Hall lit up in pink, Maleah’s favorite color. June 9 was also declared Maleah Davis Day.
“Hug your children, tell your children you love them, [and] protect your children,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told vigil attendees. “Let’s make sure this type of day never has to happen again in our city.”
Some participants argued child protective services was partly to blame for Davis’ death, KHOU 11 reported. Court records show CPS removed Maleah and her siblings from the family’s home in 2018 after the 4-year-old suffered a head injury officials suspected was the result possible physical abuse.
Documents show the kids were returned to the home in February after doctors “could not confirm whether or not the injuries were caused by abuse.”
“The primary goal is family reunification,” court documents state, noting Davis’ mother, Brittany Bowens, had completed court-ordered parenting classes. “The agency believes this is in the best interest of Maleah.”
On Sunday, Mayor Turner said the city’s leaders are “responsible for making sure a situation of this kind never happens again in this city, this state or in this country.”
Watch more in the video below.