Police in Texas say they have located the car used by the former fiance of missing 4-year-old Maleah Davis' mother on the day he claims the little girl was kidnapped by three men who assaulted him and knocked him unconscious.
The car, a silver 2011 Nissan Altima, was located Thursday morning in Missouri City, Texas, close to where Derion Vence, 26, said he regained consciousness and discovered the girl had vanished. He told police he regained consciousness on the side of a road, more than 21 hours after he said the perpetrators took Maleah and the car, according to the Houston Police Department.
Vence told police his 2-year-old son, who had also been in the car, was sitting next to him and was unharmed.
The Nissan was spotted Thursday morning parked in the middle of a shopping mall parking lot in Missouri City, according to police. A taxi driver noticed the car from news reports and called the police, said Det. Ken Fregia, of the Houston Police Department Homicide Division.
Fregia said the car was unlocked and that a child's car seat was inside, but investigators found no evidence of foul play in the vehicle or in its trunk.
"The car looks fine. Everything looks normal on the car," Fregia told reporters at the scene.
Officers are conducting a search of the vehicle and planned to tow the car to a facility where they can do a more detailed search, Fregia said.
He said investigators also plan to comb through surveillance camera footage from the mall to see if there is a video of whoever left the car in the parking lot.
Maleah's mother, Brittany Bowens, who has been part of a group of volunteers passing out fliers and searching for the missing girl, broke down in tears and collapsed after going to the mall and seeing investigators searching the car, which is registered to her.
"Where is Maleah? Where is my baby?" Bowens tearfully yelled before falling to the ground on her knees, ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston reported.
Maleah has been missing since Friday night and police have not identified any suspects in her disappearance.
A court order issued this week showed that Vence and Bowens has have been banned from having any contact with the toddler they have together and Maleah, according to ABC affiliate station KVUE-TV in Austin. State Child Protective Service opened an investigation of the couple last August after Maleah hurt her head and had to undergo brain surgery, officials said.
The children were temporarily placed in the custody of relatives but were returned to Bowens and Vence in February, according to CPS records obtained by KVUE.
Vence told police he was driving with the children to pick up Bowens about 9 p.m. Friday at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where Bowens was returning from a trip to Massachusetts when he noticed something wrong with their car and pulled over in north Houston, police said.
"He hears a popping noise like he has a flat tire, pulls over to check on it," Sgt. Mark Holbrook of the Houston Police Department Homicide Division said at a news conference on Sunday.
Vence told police that when he got out to check the car, a blue pickup truck pulled up behind him and two men approached him.
One of the men, according to what Vence told police, made a comment that "Maleah looks very nice, looks very sweet," according to Holbrook. The other male hit Vence in the head, knocking him out, Holbrook said.
Vence told police that he kept going in and out of consciousness, but at one point he was in the back of the suspects' truck with his son and Maleah and that there were now three suspects in the vehicle driving them around, Holbrook said. He said the next time Vence woke up, about 6 p.m. on Saturday, he was on the side of the Southwest Freeway near State Highway 6 in Sugar Land, some 22 miles southwest of Houston.
"He wakes up. He has his son ... with him. He begins walking around. He tries to summon help. Nobody's really helping him," Holbrook said, recounting Vence's account.
He said Vence told police that he walked with his son to Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, arriving about 10 or 11 p.m. He was treated for a head injury and police were called.
Frejia said police have been unable to locate Vence in the past few days but would like to interview him again.
He said there appeared to be nothing wrong with the Nissan's tires when police inspected the car Thursday morning.
Prior to Thursday, the Nissan was last spotted by a traffic camera at an intersection in Sugar Land at 2:54 p.m. on Saturday, police said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect changes in the spelling of Derion Vence's name and his relationship to Meleah Davis' mother, which were initially based on information provided by the Houston Police Department.