The remains of an eight-year-old girl who may have gone missing as long as three months ago were discovered in a Merced home Friday that belongs to the boyfriend of the girl's mother, and he has since gone on the run.
While the remains found Friday have not been positively identified, signs point to them belonging to eight-year-old Sophia Mason. Family members say they have not seen Sophia alive since December, and her mother, 30-year-old Samantha Johnson of Hayward, was arrested Thursday on separate charges. As Bay Area News Group reports, Johnson was arrested on a warrant stemming from a child abuse incident last year in Alameda County, and she was also arrested on suspicion of obstruction, and later on a murder charge.
It was from questioning Johnson that authorities were led to a home on Barclay Way in Merced on Friday belonging to Johnson's boyfriend, 34-year-old Dhante Jackson. As Merced Police said Saturday on Facebook, "Soon after news spread about Jackson’s home being searched, he went on the run. A warrant has been issued for Jackson’s arrest for the charge of murder. He is known to frequent the Bay Area of California."
Johnson was in custody at Santa Rita Jail as of Saturday, but was going to be moved to Merced County Jail, because that is now the jurisdiction of the murder.
"This could have been totally avoided," said Johnson's cousin Melanie Verlatti, speaking to KTVU over the weekend, blaming authorities and Child Protective Services.
"We knew and had reported to cops and police officers multiple times over the past several years that when Sophia was in custody with her mom she was in danger," Verlatti says. "That something could happen. And nothing was ever done. She kind of fell through the cracks of the system."
Sophia was raised partly by her grandmother, and Verlatti told KTVU that occasionally Johnson would show back up in Sophia's life, take her out of school, and take her to various hotels.
"Her life with her mom wasn’t a good one," Verlatti told KTVU. "Her life with her grandmother, my aunt however was really good. She was happy, she was loving she was joyful. She loved going to school, being a little kid."
Verlatti further explained that Sophia had called her aunt back in December, before she was reported missing, and when asked where she was, she reportedly said, "I’m with my daddy, I’m at the house with my daddy."
Anyone with information about this case or the whereabouts of Jackson is asked to call Merced Police Detective John Pinnegar at (209) 388-7712, or the anonymous tip line at 209-385-4725. Detective Pinnegar can also be reached by email at [email protected].