HOUSTON – Remains of a child were found in a bag Friday near the search scene for Maleah Davis in Hope, Arkansas, according to law enforcement officials.
There has been no identification made on the remains, but Houston police said in a news conference Friday that they believe the remains could be those of Maleah.
On Friday afternoon, authorities said an interstate cleanup crew found the remains in a garbage bag emitting a foul odor, near Exit 18 in Fulton, Arkansas, which is about 14 miles southwest of Hope. Officials said they found clothing and jewelry, which led them to believe the remains are those of a small child.
Authorities started searching for the missing girl in Arkansas after Maleah's stepfather reportedly told a community activist that the 4-year-old's body was dumped at the first Hope exit coming from Texarkana.
The mowing crew that found the remains struck the bag, scattering evidence.
Authorities said they are working to determine if there is a connection between Derion Vence and Arkansas. They said that, since Vence is from St. Louis, they believe he could have stopped in Arkansas on his way to or from home.
Vence has been in jail since May 11, when he was charged with tampering with evidence in connection with Maleah’s disappearance after investigators said blood found in the family’s southwest Houston apartment matched DNA taken from Maleah’s toothbrush.
Community activist Quanell X said Vence told him Friday morning that Maleah is dead and that her death was the result of an accident. He said Vence confessed to dumping her body in Arkansas.
"One thing he wanted to make clear to me was: What happened to Maleah was an accident. He says it was an accident and he confessed to me where he dumped her body," Quanell X said. "He said that 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."
A motion was granted Friday prohibiting Quanell X and any of his associates from visiting Vence while he is in jail.
Tim Miller, of Texas EquuSearch, chartered a flight to Arkansas on Friday. He brought along at least one Houston Police Department homicide detective.
"I think it's true enough that I've got an airplane lined up at 3 o'clock to go ahead and fly a detective and several of us up there to go ahead and start the search," Miller said.
The search was centered on the town of Hope, which is about 35 miles northeast of Texarkana.
The detectives who flew in with Miller will return to Houston with the remains, officials said. The remains were expected to be in Houston on Friday night.
Cmdr. Michael Skillern, of the Houston Police Department, said the remains were those of a child, but he couldn't confirm they were Maleah's remains.
"Given the information we have, and the fact we have found a crime scene here, one would assume we have found our victim. It may be Maleah, but we can’t be certain of that until we get everything back home," Skillern said. "It's going to be a child."
According to investigators, Vence said he, Maleah and Maleah’s younger brother were attacked April 30 when he stopped to inspect a damaged tire. He said he was knocked out during the attack and when he regained consciousness, Maleah and the family’s car were missing.
Vence reported Maleah missing May 4 when he went to a Sugar Land hospital for treatment of injuries he said he had suffered during the attack.
Investigators said there have been inconsistencies in Vence’s story.
Channel 2 Investigates attempted to speak with Vence's attorney, Dorian Cotlar, on Friday following his meeting with the district attorney's office, but Cotlar did not want to comment on the case and drove away.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said prosecutors continue to work with police to solve the case.
"Let's let search teams do what search teams do," Ogg said in a written statement. "We have spoken with the defendant's lawyer and there is no agreement. We continue to work with the Houston Police Department to bring justice for Maleah Davis."