DALLAS/ HOUSTON(AP) — A car that was reportedly stolen when a 4-year-old Texas girl disappeared late last week was found Thursday in a suburban Houston parking lot, authorities said.
A woman spotted the gray Nissan Altima in a Missouri City parking lot and reported it to police, Houston police Detective Kenneth Fregia said during a news conference. He said the car was found unlocked and didn’t appear to be damaged, and that detectives would go over it “with a fine-toothed comb.”
Brittany Bowens, the mother of missing Maleah Davis, was at the scene as police conducted an initial search of the car. She could be seen crying and hitting her hands against the ground.
Police say Maleah’s stepfather, Darion Vence, told investigators that he was driving the car to the airport to pick up the girl’s mother Friday night when he pulled over to check if it had a flat tire. They say Vence said men in a pickup truck pulled up, knocked him out and abducted him, Maleah and his 2-year-old son before eventually allowing him and the boy to go free.
Authorities say Vence reported the abduction at a hospital on Saturday night and explained that he had been in and out of consciousness over the previous 24 hours.
The car’s tires appeared to be fine and police are searching for security footage that might show when and how it arrived in the lot, Fregia said.
Vence initially reported his stepdaughter missing after he showed up Saturday at a hospital in Sugar Land, which is next to Missouri City. He told police he had walked there after coming to a highway that runs through the region. However, a Sugar Land police spokesman said Vence’s “story changed several times.”
Fregia said Vence hasn’t spoken with investigators since Saturday and that he’d “like to talk” with Vence but isn’t concerned about his whereabouts. He declined to call Vence a person of interest in the case.
History with Child Protective Services
Months before going missing, Maleah was removed from the family home because of allegations of abuse but was later returned, a child protection agency said Tuesday.
Agency investigators began looking into the Houston household after Maleah’s head was injured, eventually leading to her having multiple brain surgeries, Butler said. She declined to elaborate on the injury.
In August, the girl and her 5- and 1-year-old brothers were removed from the home and placed in the care of relatives, Butler said. The children were returned home in February but officially remained in state custody and were checked on by a caseworker each month, she said.
A phone message left at a number listed for Vence was not returned Tuesday.