'She should still be here': ABC13's Stefania Okolie recalls Maleah Davis case

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In an emotional one-on-one interview, ABC13 Eyewitness News reporter Stefania Okolie describes the emotional connection she developed while covering one of the most heartbreaking cases of the year.

"When police sent out that Amber Alert, we saw this beautiful, young girl and we heard a weird, odd story that was coming from her then stepfather Derion Vence about this alleged abduction," recalled Okolie.

She's referring to the case of little Maleah Davis, who was first reported missing on May 5, and whose remains were found in Arkansas nearly a month later.

"I think what really captivated so many people about this story was just how it started," said Okolie. "It wasn't just a missing child, it was a missing child with a very elaborate story that ended up being a lie."

READ MORE: Maleah Davis case leaves community with broken hearts

Okolie recalls receiving the Amber Alert, and speaking with police that day.

She also recalls handling the public's perception of the case throughout the case's coverage.

"I think what has really connected me to the story and the family is treating them with dignity and respect as the facts come out," said Okolie. "It's okay to listen to what people have to say, to hear their opinions, but it's not our job to convict bad parents or people who are perceived as bad parents."

As the only member of the media allowed to attend Maleah's private funeral service, Okolie said at times, she couldn't help but to feel emotionally connected to Maleah herself.

"I'm not a mom but this little girl, I see parts of me in her," said Okolie. "I see parts of my nieces in her and close friends and their children, so I think (Maleah's mom) knew that I cared and I do care."

Hundreds of people attended the private funeral service in honor of Maleah.

Maleah's obituary featured a heartwarming message that was written as though it came from the 4-year-old herself.

The message said in part, "I enjoyed my life and I want to thank everyone who made me laugh, smile and love on you."

"This was a little girl who just loved life," said Okolie. "Enjoyed the things that your daughter enjoyed, that my daughter would enjoy if I had one, and was pure innocence. I believe that this little girl was very loved, and I think a lot of people may disagree because of what happened. It is very clear that she was loved."

While Maleah was laid to rest Saturday, Okolie says there are still many questions about the case: What happened to Maleah and why?

Follow Stefania Okolie on Instagram and Twitter.


Copyright © 2019 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.