The remains of a child discovered in Arkansas may be those of 4-year-old Maleah Davis, missing from her Houston home since April 30, Houston police said Friday.
Authorities said a child’s body had been recovered from a garbage bag at a location that police had been directed to by the girl’s stepfather, who is a suspect in her disappearance.
“HPD homicide detectives are there right now trying to determine if a garbage bag found at the scene contains Maleah’s remains,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at press briefing. “But forensic examinations will have to make that final determination.”
“Do we believe that it’s possibly her? Yes,” said HPD executive assistant chief Troy Finner. “But can we confirm it right now? No.”
Maleah was last seen on April 30 when surveillance footage captured her going into the her mother and stepfather’s Houston home with her stepfather, 26-year-old Derion Vence. Other surveillance footage from a neighbor showed Vence leaving the apartment on May 3 with his son and a laundry basket.
Police said that Vence, who was arrested earlier this month, told Houston community activist Quanell X during a jailhouse visit earlier Friday where the girl’s remains might be found.
Quanell told reporters that Vence said the girl died by accident and that he dumped her body by the side of a road in Arkansas, ABC affiliate KTRK reported. The station also reported that a law enforcement officer said a road crew there had located a bag with a foul odor.
“Whoever’s responsible for Maleah’s death, I anticipate murder charges,” Finner said at Friday’s press briefing. “Who and when, I don’t know right now.”
Finner said the young girl’s disappearance had galvanized all of Houston.
“When you mess with anybody in our community, you hurt our entire community,” Finner said. “And we’re coming after you.”
Vence, who was caring for Maleah while her mother was away, had told police the 4-year-old was abducted by three men, including one who knocked him out during a carjacking, but Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that he doesn’t believe the story.
Police found the family’s car in Missouri City, Texas, and investigators said cadaver-sniffing dogs detected the scent of human remains inside.
Officers arrested Vence earlier this month on suspicion of tampering with a human corpse, according to police. Acevedo said Vence had not been cooperating with the investigation.
As pressure was building to find the missing toddler, Crime Stoppers of Houston on Thursday increased its reward to $12,500 for information leading to the person responsible for the little girl’s disappearance.
Combined with the $15,000 offered by the Houston Police, the total reward had reached $27,500, Crime Stoppers said.
Police believe the 4-year-old was murdered and were looking to find her body to give her family closure, Houston authorities said last week.
“The sadness surrounding Maleah Davis’ disappearance has captured the hearts of our city and the nation,” Mayor Turner, who is among those who has partnered with Crime Stoppers, said in a statement Thursday.
“The sadness surrounding Maleah Davis’ disappearance has captured the hearts of our city and the nation. I appreciate those who continue to search for the missing 4-year-old, but it is time to find Maleah and bring her home,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. pic.twitter.com/0vPsE3fFGF
— City of Houston (@HoustonTX) May 31, 2019
“I appreciate those who continue to search for the missing 4-year-old, but it is time to find Maleah and bring her home,” Turner said.
ABC News’ Karma Allen contributed to this report.