Merced authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the remains of a girl found at a residence in the city last week are those of eight-year-old Sophia Mason, who was reported missing by family members in the East Bay.
Mason's mother, Samantha Johnson, 30, was arrested by Hayward police last week on an earlier child-abuse warrant, after being alerted by the child's grandmother that the girl was likely in danger. Johnson directed police to the home of her boyfriend, 34-year-old Dhante Jackson, in the city of Merced, where police served a search warrant and found a child's remains on Friday.
As the East Bay Times reports via the Merced County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau, those remains have been positively identified as belonging to Sophia Mason.
We now have a few more details about the circumstances that led to Johnson's arrest last week, via the East Bay Times. Sophia had reportedly grown up primarily in the care of her grandmother and her aunt, Emerald Johnson, but in recent years, Samantha Johnson had repeatedly reappeared and took her daughter on trips between the Bay Area and Southern California.
As Johnson's cousin, Melanie Verlatti, told KTVU, "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. That something could happen. And nothing was ever done. She kind of fell through the cracks of the system."
Emerald Johnson tells the East Bay Times that there had been a "disturbing" phone call between Samantha Johnson and her mother last week, "in which Samantha said that she was planning to travel from Merced to the Bay Area without Sophia because she 'gave her away.'" Verlatti also said that when the grandmother had last spoken to Sophia she said she was with her "daddy" somewhere.
That was what triggered the police response and the arrest of Johnson. However, the aunt says that she had filed "a dozen" reports over the last several months with Child Protective Services and the police about Sophia's well-being, and nothing was done.
"We’re broken,” says another cousin, Melissa Harris, speaking to the East Bay Times following the positive ID. “I think we all knew but we wanted to hold onto a tiny shred of hope that it wasn’t her of course."
Jackson remains on the run, possibly somewhere in California, and he has connections in the Bay Area.
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].
The family has also set up a GoFundMe account to pay for funeral expenses for Sophia.