95ºF

Top stories of 2019 (#1): How 4-year-old Maleah Davis’ sweet face captured the hearts of so many

photo

Editor’s note: Through the end of the year, click2houston.com is looking back at the biggest stories of the year, based on what was most popular on our website this year.

#7: Tropical Storm Imelda slips in, causes major flooding and kills at least 5 people

#6: Astros fall in seven games, Cole leaves but Verlander wins Cy Young

#5: Harding Street raid prompts extensive investigation, multiple federal charges

#4: Plane carrying Amazon cargo crashes into Trinity Bay, kills 3 aboard

#3: 5 officers were killed in the line of duty this year

#2: ITC chemical plant fire burns for days, creates health and economic impacts


Although Maleah Davis lived a short four years of her life, she made an unthinkable impact with her bright smile and face. Her life ended in such a tragedy after she was reported missing on May 4, 2019, by Derion Vence, a man who claimed to be Maleah’s stepfather.

Vence said he was attacked and knocked out by three Hispanic men on the side of the road. Vence claimed that he was in and out of consciousness and when he woke up, Maleah and the family’s gray Nissan Altima were gone.

On May 5, 2019, the world got a glance of Maleah’s face when an Amber Alert for the 4-year-old went out. Local officials went into a frantic search across the Houston area. Her disappearance quickly gained national attention.

Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowen, her grandmother, Brenda Bowens, friends and family took matters into their own hands by handing out flyers to help police find Maleah.

Many started to lose hope and gain suspicion of Maleah’s disappearance on May 9, 2019, when the missing vehicle was recovered, but no Maleah insight. Maleah was last seen on surveillance cameras the morning of April 30 walking behind Vence at the family’s southwest Houston apartment complex.

Maleah Davis (left) and Derion Vence (right) are seen walking to the family's southwest Houston apartment just before 8 a.m. April 30, 2019, in this image provided to KPRC2 by a police source.
Maleah Davis (left) and Derion Vence (right) are seen walking to the family's southwest Houston apartment just before 8 a.m. April 30, 2019, in this image provided to KPRC2 by a police source.

On May 11, 2019, Vence was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence after blood was found in the apartment where Maleah lived, according to investigators.

READ: Court documents said police found blood in the apartment

Houstonians expressed their outrage against Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowen, for failing to protect her daughter.

WATCH: ‘Justice for Maleah’: Missing girl’s mother stoic as crowds chant inside courthouse

Family members and supporters crowded the courthouse in downtown Houston in anticipation of the appearance of Derion Vence, the man at the center of the disappearance of 4-year-old Maleah Davis.
Family members and supporters crowded the courthouse in downtown Houston in anticipation of the appearance of Derion Vence, the man at the center of the disappearance of 4-year-old Maleah Davis.

Many lost hope that law enforcement officials would find Maleah alive but wanted to make sure her body was found and laid to rest. A memorial grew outside the home of Maleah as hundreds from across the Houston area gathered to remember a little girl who many have never met.

photo
photo
photo

The thought of what may have happened to Maleah sent emotions to those not only in Houston but across the nation, which captured the attention of many celebs and public figures. That anger was also directed to the child protective services after court records showed Maleah was placed back into the home after being removed for suspected abuse.

READ: Small group of protesters gathered in front of the Child Protective Services offices in Southwest Houston

The small group of protesters stood in front of CPS’ offices on May 20, 2019, as a visual reminder of a desire expressed worldwide to hear why the agency and the judge presiding over the case decided to place Maleah back with her mother, after allegations of child abused were raised.

Protesters gather at Child Protective Services offices in Southwest Houston on May 20, 2019.
Protesters gather at Child Protective Services offices in Southwest Houston on May 20, 2019. (KPRC2)

Reward to find Maleah continued to raise

On May 23, 2019, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and his office offered an additional $5,000 in reward. A couple in Louisiana also put up an additional $10,000 in reward money, bringing the total to $20,000.

Activist Quanell X represented Brittany Bowens in the case until he announced on May 29, 2019, that he would no longer speak on the behalf of Bowens due to inconsistencies in her story.

READ: Quanell X no longer representing Maleah Davis’ mother

Quanell seemed to have played a major role in helping officials find Maleah after he claimed Vence confessed to dumping Maleah’s body in Arkansas. Tim Miller, of Texas EquuSearch, chartered a flight to Arkansas and brought along at least one Houston Police Department homicide detective.

A heartbreaking discovery

On May 31, 2019, a child’s remains were found in a garbage bag near Exit 18 in Fulton, Arkansas, which was 20 miles northeast of Texarkana.

photo

The remains were taken back to Houston by Texas EquuSearch. Miller said he wrapped the bag of remains in a child’s blanket. On June 3, 2019, the remains were positively identified by a Harris County medical examiner as those of Maleah.

Maleah Davis Day

Houston City Hall was lit up pink on Sunday, June 9, 2019 for Maleah Davis Day.
Houston City Hall was lit up pink on Sunday, June 9, 2019 for Maleah Davis Day.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared Jun 9, 2019, as Maleah Davis Day and City Hall was lit up in pink -- Maleah’s favorite color. That same day, Maleah’s father, supporters and thousands of others attended the Walk With Maleah to City Hall. The walk ended with a moment of silence. Brenda Bowens also shared words of comfort at City Hall that night of the gathering, standing alongside with Cheif Acevedo.

READ: Houston’s baby: Mayor Turner declares June 9 as Maleah Davis Day

READ: This is how we honored Maleah Davis

READ: Local man paints mural of Maleah Davis’ name on fence of apartment where she once lived

Residents in Arkansas were also touched by Maleah’s story and wanted to pay tribute to the 4-year-old. Hundreds wore pink as a memorial was held at the site where Maleah’s remains were found. Supporters also walked and held a balloon release.

photo
photo

Maleah was laid to rest June 22, 2019, in a private funeral service, according to her obituary. Maleah’s father, Craig Davis, shared photos of her My Little Pony-themed casket. In the photos, the top of the casket shows a photo of Maleah riding a blue pony with clouds and a rainbow in the background. Her name is displayed in pink. The side of the casket features more ponies and rainbows, with her full name Maleah Lynn Davis on the bottom.

READ: Maleah Davis’ casket photos shared by her father

The interior of the casket features bright colors and more ponies.

READ: Meet the man who donated the My Little Pony casket for Maleah Davis

Maleah’s paternal aunt also shared a photo of her niece’s Disney-themed headstone where she was laid to rest.

PHOTO: Destiny Davis - Instagram
PHOTO: Destiny Davis - Instagram

Destiny Davis posted the photo to her Instagram account Friday saying: “Everything I could have imagined and more for my Princess! Thank you Affordable Markers Atwater for creating something so special! May you forever Dash In Peace my Angel, until we meet again.”

READ: ‘It’s come full circle’: Sculpture of Maleah Davis gifted to Texas EquuSearch

A sculpture of Maleah Davis was gifted to EquuSearch on Sept. 27, 2019
A sculpture of Maleah Davis was gifted to EquuSearch on Sept. 27, 2019

New charge filed against Derion Vence as he remains in jail

On Aug. 5, 2019, a new charge was filed against Vence in connection with the death of Maleah. He was charged with injury to a child, “intentionally and knowingly causing serious bodily injury” to Davis.

The charge is a first-degree felony, which carries the same penalty as murder, five to 99 years in prison. A Harris County District Court judge set his bail at $45,000 for each of the charges, bringing his new total to $90,000.

Investigators said that Maleah died by homicidal violence.

New details on how Maleah died were released Oct. 28, 2019

Court documents reveal Vence is accused of striking Maleah with a blunt object, causing her to hit another blunt object and fall to the floor. On Monday, court documents also stated that Vence restricted the 4-year-old’s airway with an unknown object. He is also accused of failing to provide proper medical care.

Vence’s next court date is Jan. 22, 2020.


About the Author: