Maleah Davis missing: Car reported stolen in case of missing Texas girl found

/ CBS/AP

Houston — A car that was reported 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 said Maleah's stepfather, Darion Vence, told investigators that he was driving the car to the airport to pick up Bowens Friday night when he pulled over to check if it had a flat tire. 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, according to Houston police.

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Fregia said the car's tires appeared to be fine and that investigators were searching for security footage that might show when and how it arrived in the lot. "It's like a nightmare. It just keeps going and going," Brittany Bowens said in an emotional interview with CBS News.

Child Protective Services has been monitoring the home where Maleah lived with Vence, her mother and her siblings for months, according to spokeswoman Tiffani Butler. During an emergency hearing Wednesday, Maleah's two brothers, 1 and 5, were placed in the custody of family and Vence and Bowens were ordered to have no contact with them, CBS affiliate KHOU reported.

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 been in and out of consciousness over the previous 24 hours and had walked there after coming to on 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 again but isn't concerned about his whereabouts.

In August, Maleah and her two brothers were removed from the home and placed in the care of relatives after Maleah suffered a head injury that eventually led to her having multiple brain surgeries, Butler said. The child was brought to the hospital at the urging of the girl's grandmother, according to Harris County family court records obtained by KHOU, who was at work at the time the child was injured.

Doctors said they were told by the child's parents that she fell off a chair into a marble table, but that the injury didn't match the explanation, according to the station. Further medical review uncovered a previous head injury that wasn't reported, the court records say. Child welfare workers were called in on a report alleging physical abuse and neglect, and the children were removed from the home over concerns for their safety. A court couldn't determine whether the injuries were the result of abuse, according to KHOU.

Three weeks earlier, Bowens had taken the girl to an emergency room because she was throwing up blood, the records said. The child was noted to be extremely lethargic. She was discharged home after being treated, the records say.

The children were returned in February but officially remained in state custody and were checked on by a caseworker each month, Butler said. The parents were ordered to take parenting classes, but it's not clear whether they took the required course. They were due back in a family court later this month.

First published on May 9, 2019 / 5:57 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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