Crowds gathered Wednesday night in Sugar Land, Texas, to honor Maleah Davis as the search for the missing 4-year-old girl expanded to an area that the man suspected in her disappearance allegedly described as a good place to hide a body.
Well-wishers released pink and white balloons into the dusk sky following a series of emotional speeches at Oyster Creek Park.
Days earlier, volunteers gathered in the same park to pass out fliers seeking information in Maleah’s disappearance. Since then, the search for the young girl has expanded to Rosharon, an unincorporated community in neighboring Brazoria County.
Houston Police are working with the search and rescue organization Texas EquuSearch to locate Maleah, police spokesperson Jodi Silva said.
On Wednesday, searchers focused on a rural area of Rosharon where Derion Vence, the suspect in her disappearance, once had a mail route, EquuSearch Founder and Director Tim Miller said.
“He actually told his mother-in-law a year ago, ‘If I ever murder someone I can dump a body in Rosharon, that will never be found,’” Miller said.
EquuSearch confirmed the claim with Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowens, Miller said.
“It’s not a rumor,” he said.
’No child deserves to lose their life’
Participants in Wednesday’s vigil wore blue shirts with Maleah’s picture. One of those people was the father of Jazmine Barnes, a little girl from the Houston area who was killed in a drive-by shooting in December.
Christopher Cevilla said he wanted to show love and support for Maleah’s family, just as the community mourned the loss of his “princess.”
Cevilla said it was hard to see Maleah in news reports and social media and not think of his daughter.
“It brings back flashbacks,” he said. “It’s very hard not to see my baby, looking at the pictures.”
Although the cases share little in common, the investigation of Maleah’s disappearance has gone through twists and turns, just as Jazmine’s case did.
In early May, Vence told authorities that a trio of Hispanic men knocked him unconscious and abducted Maleah while they were driving to the airport to pick up Maleah’s mother. Within days, authorities say his story began to unravel.
Court documents suggest that blood from the apartment Vence shares with Maleah’s mother is “consistent” with DNA taken from Maleah’s toothbrush, and surveillance footage shows that Maleah never left the apartment.
Vence was arrested Saturday and booked into Harris County jail on suspicion of tampering with a human corpse, according to police, who have not said if Maleah is believed to be alive. Court documents indicate a “substantial likelihood” Vence will be charged with murder.
Speakers at Wednesday night’s vigil urged the crowd to focus on Maleah and not the investigation. Yet, traces of everyone’s worst fears about Maleah’s fate echoed throughout the vigil.
“No child deserves to lose their life,” said one woman who identified herself as a member of Maleah’s family.
Another speaker urged the crowd to to honor Maleah’s memory by building loving homes and families.
“Hold your babies tonight and show them how much you love them.”
CNN’s Nick Valencia contributed to this report.