Three weeks have passed since little Maleah Davis was last seen alive. The 4-year-old girl vanished after being pictured on surveillance footage entering her Houston apartment with her mother’s ex-fiance, Derion Vence, who police said told them three men abducted the child several days later.
But Vence’s alleged story didn’t add up, according to police, who have since arrested him in connection with Maleah’s disappearance.
Below is a timeline of the case so far:
Tuesday, April 30
Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowens, said she left town for father’s funeral in Massachusetts, leaving her daughter and the young son she shares with Vence in his care.
Saturday, May 4
Vence and his son with Bowens arrived at Houston Methodist Hospital between 10 and 11 p.m., where Vence apparently told authorities he had been attacked and Maleah had been abducted.
Investigators said Vence told them he was on his way to pick up Bowens at George Bush Intercontinental Airport when he pulled over at the side of the road to investigate a popping noise he thought was coming from his tire about 9 p.m. Friday, Houston Police Sgt. Mark Holbrook said.
It was while he was investigating the noise that a blue crew cab Chevy truck pulled up behind Vence, he said. Three men got out of the truck and approached Vence while his son and Maleah were still in the car.
“One of them makes a comment saying, ‘Maleah looks very nice, looks very sweet,’” Holbrook later said Vence told police. “The other male hits Derion in the head.”
Cops said Vence told them he was knocked unconscious. He said he briefly woke at one point and realized he was in the back of the truck with the three men and the children before passing out again, Holbrook said.
Vence was otherwise unable to recall where he was and what happened until about 6 p.m. Saturday, when he said the men left him and his son near Highway 6 in Sugar Land and took off with Maleah, police said.
Vence said he wandered along the highway with his son for four hours looking for help, but no one stopped for him, and he ultimately walked to the hospital. His son was in good health, officials said.
Police said Vence told them his car was stolen during the alleged incident.
When Vence failed to show up at the airport to collect Bowens, she called her own mother to pick her up, according to KCCI-TV. It was not immediately clear why Bowens did not contact authorities after returning to Houston.
Sunday, May 5
An Amber Alert was issued for Maleah, who authorities said had undergone multiple brain surgeries, including one in late March, and was in need of medical care.
Police also issued a press release with information about Maleah’s disappearance. They held a press conference, in which Holbrook laid out the timeline as police knew it.
“I realize there’s a lot of blanks in that story, but we’re hoping that the public fills in the blanks,” Holbrook said.
A photo taken of Vence at the hospital showing him with cuts and bruises to his forehead was released to the public.
Officials also released video from traffic cameras showing Vence’s vehicle, a 2011 Nissan Altima, in Sugar Land about 3 p.m. Saturday. It had recently been purchased and had temporary tags with the license plate 3092G9.
Maleah’s loved ones spent the day handing out flyers with Maleah’s photo at Oyster Creek Park in Sugar Land, KHOU-TV reported.
Monday, May 6
Volunteers with Texas Equusearch joined the search for Maleah that morning. They began their search on foot and ATV near the area Vence said he had car trouble.
"We're hoping for the best, but expecting the worst," Eqqusearch founder Tim Miller told KHOU.
Others continued to hand out flyers about the case, including Bowens and her mother, Maleah’s grandmother, Brenda Bowens.
“I just want to find Maleah,” Brittany Bowens tearfully said. “I love her so much. I love her so much. If there’s anybody that can help me, please, please, I just want to find my baby.”
Tuesday, May 7
Search efforts shifted to near the family’s apartment complex as Miller said they had covered the area where Vence claimed the kidnapping occurred.
That day, a spokesman for Sugar Land 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. Search efforts were then suspended due to severe weather in the area. They remained halted through Wednesday.
Wednesday, May 8
A court order banned Brittany and Vence from seeing Maleah’s other siblings. Maleah’s younger half-brother was sent to his paternal grandmother, while her older brother was put into the custody of his paternal aunt.
The order was reportedly the result of separate motions by Brittany’s own mother, Brenda, and the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Thursday, May 9
The owner of the day care Maleah attended said the little girl hadn’t been in since April 26. She told KHOU-TV Vence and Brittany’s son had been there May 3, and that Vence picked him up, but Maleah was not with him.
Texas Equusearch resumed its efforts that day, braving wet and muddy conditions to look for Maleah.
That morning, they found Vence’s car in a strip mall parking lot near Highway 6 and Riverstone Boulevard.
Police searched the vehicle and later said they found a laundry basket and gas can in its trunk. Brittany also headed to the scene where the car was discovered. There, she was consoled by detectives as she cried about her daughter.
That day, it was revealed that Maleah last year was taken into custody by Child Protective Services after she was rushed to the hospital with a seizure and a head injury.
The little girl was only taken to the hospital after Brenda arrived home from work and urged she be seen by a doctor, the report said. At the time, Maleah was living with Brenda as well as her mother and Vence.
Doctors said Maleah’s mother and Vence claimed she fell off a chair, but the injury did not align with that explanation, according to KHOU-TV. She was taken into temporary custody by CPS, but a judge returned her to her mother and Vence several months later.
No one was charged in connection with the incident.
Friday, May 10
A spokesman for Brittany revealed she and Vence had broken up, telling reporters the couple parted on bad terms because Brittany suspected Vence of abusing Maleah.
“She told him she was giving back his ring and that she was not going to marry him,” Quanell X said. “I believe that caused him to snap in anger. There is reason to believe, based on what I know now, there’s issues of him possibly molesting young Maleah.”
Brittany did not report any concerns of alleged abuse to police, Quanell X said.
Quanell X said Brittany previously threatened to break up with Vence because she found explicit pictures he sent to another man. According to Quanell X, Vence was seen on a neighbor’s security camera carrying with a garbage bag and bottles of bleach the day he said he was attacked and Maleah was abducted.
Saturday, May 11
Vence was arrested 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 later reduced on May 13 to $45,000.
Sunday, May 12
Court documents released noted chemicals sprayed at Vence’s home picked up traces of blood in the hallway and bathroom. DNA samples taken from Maleah’s toothbrush were consistent with the samples found from the blood discovered throughout the apartment, authorities said.
Monday, May 13
Vence’s court appearance was rescheduled and potentially delayed until July. Brittany was present for Vence’s scheduled appearance, and faced insults and accusations from protesters who apparently held her partly responsible for Maleah’s disappearance.
Tears streamed down Brittany’s face as protesters chanted “Where is Maleah?” while her spokesman, Quanell X, addressed the media and called on Vence to confess to hurting the 4-year-old child.
“The main thing right now that all of us want to know is, what did he do with Maleah?” Quanell X said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Brittany has not been charged in connection to her daughter’s disappearance, but she was lambasted outside court and accused of being as guilty as Vence.
“Why isn’t she locked up?” one heckler reportedly yelled.
“She let it happen,” another said.
That same day, an image believed to be the last taken of Maleah before she disappeared was released to the public.
In the photo, provided to KHOU-TV by a law enforcement source, Maleah can be seen walking behind Vence toward their apartment complex April 30. She was never seen exiting the apartment, officials said.
Wednesday, May 15
The search for missing 4-year-old 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."
Thursday, May 16
With each passing day that Maleah 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. 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.
“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.”
Friday, May 17
Brittany sat down to discuss her daughter's disappearance, telling the station she thought she could trust her ex-fiance to care for her daughter and the son they share while she flew to Massachusetts for her father's funeral.
"I didn't know that after burying my father, I'd have to come home to this," Brittany said.
Though Brittany said she wanted to believe Vence's account of what happened, his story of being attacked by men who took her daughter made less sense as time went on, and after reporting Maleah missing, he began ignoring Brittany's calls and texts and denied her an in-person meeting, her spokesman, Quanell X, said.
It’s a lack of answers that has devastated Brittany, who relayed a list of questions she’s replayed over and over since Maleah vanished.
"Where is she? How did she feel before?” Brittany said. “What was she thinking about? Will I ever find out what really happened to her?"
Though she has been lambasted by protesters who believe she is as responsible as Vence allegedly is for Maleah's disappearance, Brittany maintained her innocence.
"People are entitled to however they think ... I know my truth," she said. "And I love my daughter unconditionally ... I don't have it in my heart to do anything like that."
Monday, May 20
Vence's father, Joe Vence Sr., spoke out against Brittany, saying she should be looked at by investigators instead of his son.
“Yeah, I believe my son is innocent and I believe his story," Joe told Melvin Cedeno of the IckedMel YouTube Channel, saying that while his son’s claims were hard to believe, he knows he is not guilty.
Vence handled the majority of drop-offs and pick-ups to and from day care for Maleah and her two brothers and raised the 4-year-old girl as if she were his own, his father said.
"Derion had those kids most of the time, he's the one who took care of the kids," he said. "I know he didn't do anything to her because he loves her. He's been taking care of her since she was, like, 1 year old."
Saying that his son has been framed by Maleah’s mother, Vence's father shot down her claims that he sexually and physically abused the little girl.
“Why would you leave your child at home with him if he's doing all of these things?" Vence's father said.
He said the laundry bag his son was seen on surveillance footage carrying out of the home the same day Vence claimed to have been attacked was not a sign that something sinister happened to Maleah.
“He was actually doing laundry,” Joe said, remaining steadfast in his belief that his son did not hurt Maleah. “He’s not the type of person that’s going to harm a child at all.”
Thursday, May 23
Texas police believe it's unlikely Maleah will be found alive.
"The evidence shows that we believe she has been murdered. Let's bring this baby home, proper burial," Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo told reporters. "Without finding that body, there is a hole left out there."
He went on to say that Vence is not being cooperative with police and accused him of lying.
"You could drive a big rig right through the tales this guy has been telling," Acevedo said. "I can sit here and say we're going to find her alive, but I'd be lying to you."
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.