Maleah Davis' tragic, tumultuous life -- and mysterious death

Updated 1:37 PM ET, Mon June 3, 2019

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(CNN)A little girl with a gap-toothed smile and curly pigtails walked into a Houston apartment in a pink tutu a month ago -- and disappeared.

Maleah Davis was in the care of her mother's boyfriend, Derion Vence, when she was captured on surveillance video following him into the home they all shared on April 30.
After weeks of agonizing twists and turns, human remains found in Arkansas were confirmed Monday to be those of the 4-year-old. The mystery surrounding her last few days, however, lingers.
Maleah Davis.

The day of her disappearance

Maleah's mother, Brittany Bowens, dated Vence for years and they shared a toddler son together. She'd gone out of town when she left her daughter under his care.
When Vence reported her missing May 4, he told detectives he'd been attacked by unknown men a day earlier while on his way to the airport to pick up Bowens along with Maleah and his son.
    He says he pulled over on the side of the road to check whether his Nissan Altima had a flat tire, and the men approached them and beat him up until he passed out, according to police.
    About 24 hours later, he woke up to find the little girl missing and his face bloodied, and walked to a nearby hospital with his son, he told detectives.
    Derion Vence says he was injured during the alleged  abduction last month.

    The week that followed

    His story quickly unraveled days later.
    Surveillance footage revealed a car dropping him off at the hospital, contradicting his story to detectives that he'd walked there, according to court documents.
    Back at their home, surveillance footage also showed Maleah never left his apartment after she followed him in on April 30. It also showed Vence carrying a laundry basket with a trash bag out of the building a day before he reported her missing. A search of the apartment found blood that matched DNA from the little girl's toothbrush, court documents say.
    Vence sits in jail on suspicion of tampering with a human corpse, and will likely be charged with murder, authorities say.
    The suspect's brother, Joe Vence, says he believes he's innocent. "We're a strong, praying family. God is on our side. God is with my brother," he told CNN affiliate KTRK.
    Efforts to reach Vence's attorney have been unsuccessful.
    Surveillance footage showed suspect Derion Vence carrying out a laundry basket with bleach and a trash bag.

    The emerging red flags

    As a community prayed for the little girl's safe return, more red flags emerged after her father shared details of his last conversation with the suspect.
      At a court hearing last week, Craig Davis alleged he went to the apartment where his daughter lived to check on her. Vence refused to let him in, saying Maleah had the flu and he did not want her father to get sick, Davis says.
      Vence told police he left about an hour after that visit to pick up Bowens from the airport, and was confronted by attackers on their way.
      "There are so many unanswered questions. It's ... not for the police to answer them for me," Davis says. "It's not for the news to answer them for me.