With each passing day that Maleah Davis remains missing, the adults who know the little girl well struggle to explain to her young friends what could have happened to lead to her disappearance.
“They ask me, ‘Do you think Maleah is going to come back?’ And I don’t know how to answer that,” Carolyn Emerson said to KPRC-TV of Maleah’s classmates at Attitude Respect N’ Manners school in Houston.
Emerson herself has struggled to process what could have led to the 4-year-old’s vanishing, let alone be able to break it down in a way that’s digestible for other children.
“It hurt me so hard, so bad. At home, I couldn’t sleep, and it’s still like that,” Emerson said. “I just want them to find her.”
Emerson said she last saw Maleah, whom she described as shy and smart, about a week before an Amber Alert was issued on May 5, a day after her mother’s ex-fiance Derion Vence claimed she had been taken by men who attacked him in an assault that rendered him unconscious for nearly 24 hours, police said.
But by May 7, police said Vence’s story had changed since he first spoke to investigators.
“His story did not add up," Sugar Land Police spokesman Doug Adolph told CNN.
Vence was arrested Saturday on charges of evidence tampering, officials said. He was being held on charges of tampering with a human corpse, according to Harris County jail records.
Police said they found evidence of blood in the apartment that they linked to Maleah. Authorities also said Vence was seen carrying a blue laundry basket from the apartment.
His bond was set at $1 million, but it was reduced Monday to $45,000.
The search for Maleah was suspended Wednesday, as officials pressed for more tips on specific areas to look for the Texas girl.
Most recently, volunteers with Texas EquuSearch had been combing places along Vence's onetime mail route in Rosharon. He had once allegedly described the route as an ideal place to hide a corpse, according to Miller of Texas EquuSearch.
"He actually told his mother-in-law a year ago, 'If I ever murder someone, I can dump a body in Rosharon that will never be found,'" Miller told CNN.
Miller echoed that remark while speaking to KTRK and added that he confirmed the comment with Vence's ex-fiancee and Maleah's mother, Brittany Bowens.
"I talked to Brittany on the phone to see if that was correct or just a rumor, and she said, 'Yeah, that was correct,'" Miller said.
But the search has thus far proved futile without more details, Texas EquuSearch said Wednesday.
"It is frustrating. We've been here before with other cases," Miller told the Houston Chronicle. "We're hoping some new information comes in."
Anyone with information regarding Maleah’s disappearance is asked to contact Houston Police at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers Houston at 713-222-TIPS.