Shared from the 6/10/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

‘WHEN A CHILD IS TAKEN … IT NEEDS TO MATTER’

On Maleah Davis Day, thousands march in slain girl’s memory and call for justice

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Photos by Godofredo AVásquez / Staff photographer

Craig Davis, Maleah’s father, leads thousands of marchers, many of whom wore pink, her favorite color, on Sunday.

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The walk from City Hall to the Harris County Jail began at 7:54 a.m., the last time Maleah was seen alive.

A cousin would like Maleah Davis to be remembered as an adorable little girl with the big, gap-toothed smile who loved unicorns and Minnie Mouse. “She was always smiling and playing,” said her cousin, Gretch Davis Remo.

The 4-year-old girl captured the hearts of Houston and the nation during a search that ended earlier this month after her remains were identified as those found on an Arkansas roadside.

It was the riveting story of her brief life and death that led at least 2,000 people to endure the early Sunday morning heat during a downtown walk to memorialize the girl and demand justice for Maleah after her life was snatched away.

With Sunday declared Maleah Davis Day in Houston, people wore her favorite color, pink, to honor the memory of the young girl who disappeared May 3.

“She became a household name. She became a daughter to all of us,” said John Marsden, who helped lead chants during the march. “This is a movement to show the world that we care about Maleah and other kids.”

Mary Clark came to the march with her 2-year-old godson, Darius.

“We’ve just been putting a lot of our energy and love into this beautiful young girl,” Clark said, noting that her godson has been saying Maleah’s name since the search first began.

When she and her godson struggled with the heat, Police Chief Art Acevedo picked up Darius and carried him through much of the march.

“When a child is taken like this sweet little angel, it needs to matter — not just to the family or the mayor — but to every Houstonian,” Acevedo said.

At the beginning of the walk at City Hall, Maleah’s biological father, Craig Davis, emotionally thanked everyone for coming to the event. “I love you all as much as you love my daughter,” he said.

Remo said the family was touched by the heartfelt response and turnout.

“It was a wonderful event, even though it’s very sad at the same time,” Re-mo said.

Maleah’s remains were eventually found on the side of ahighway in Hemp-stead County, Ark. A memorial service was held Saturday in Arkansas as well.

“I am surprised by the huge outpouring of support, even in Arkansas,” Remo said.

As part of Sunday’s commemoration, the lights of Houston City Hall were lit pink for Maleah.

The march started at City Hall at 7:54 a.m. — the last time Maleah was seen alive — and trekked through downtown to the Harris County Jail, where Derion Vence, the ex-boyfriend of Maleah’s mother, is held on $45,000 bond after being arrested in connection with the death.

Maleah’s body was found after an alleged jail-house confession from Vence, who reported her missing on May 4 but reportedly told community activist Quanell X that he accidentally killed her and disposed of her body in Arkansas.

Mayor Sylvester Turner helped lead the walk to the jail, often standing alongside Craig Davis.

“The system failed Maleah. Those close to her failed her,” Turner said. “We have to make sure her name is kept alive.”

Turner said he hoped the moment is a call to arms to protect all vulnerable children and for everyone to stand up for them.

Erikka Jackson said she hopes the death is a wakeup call to the government systems designed to protect children. After all, Texas Child Protective Services briefly removed Maleah and her brother from the care of her mother, Brittany Bowens, and Vence last year because of signs of physical abuse.

“Maleah brought us all out here together,” Jackson said. “I’m here strictly in support of the family. I’m not here to judge. A lot of people don’t agree with me, but the mother needs our support too.”

For a lot of people in attendance, Maleah’s death feels personal, even if they didn’t know her. Many people took their young children to the walk, including Aaliyah Lawson who went with family, including her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter, Aria.

“We feel the pain. She was done unjustly by everyone — just the whole system,” Lawson said. “It’s very impactful — impactful for all communities really.” jordan.blum@chron.com twitter.com/jdblum23

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