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Missing 8-Year-Old Girl's Body Believed Found In Home Of Mom's Boyfriend, Police Say

A manhunt is underway for 34-year-old Dhante Jackson after police say they found the body of 8-year-old Sophia Mason in his Merced home. Mason’s mother, Samantha Johnson, is already in custody and facing murder charges.

By Jill Sederstrom
Child's Body Discovered In Home Of Mom's Boyfriend

The search for an 8-year-old missing California girl ended in tragedy Friday, when a child’s remains were discovered in the Merced home of her mother’s boyfriend.

The body is believed to belong to 8-year-old Sophia Mason, although the Merced County Coroner’s Office is still working to positively confirm the identity, according to a statement from Hayward Police.

Hayward Police began to search for the missing child on Tuesday after getting a call around 6 p.m. from one of Sophia’s relatives, who voiced concerns about the young girl’s safety and requested a welfare check.  

Sophia had been in the custody of her 31-year-old mother, Samantha Johnson. Investigators attempted to locate Sophia at multiple former addresses where the pair had stayed, including the Merced home of Johnson’s boyfriend Dhante Jackson, 34; however, no one answered the door at the home initially.

Johnson was arrested on Thursday in connection with a child abuse incident that allegedly occurred last year, according to a statement from Merced Police, who also aided in the investigation.

When additional information suggested that Sophia could be at Jackson’s home, Merced Police obtained a search warrant for the home. While executing the warrant, they discovered the body of a child inside.

After the grisly discovery, a murder charge was added against Johnson, who remains in custody at the Merced County Jail.

A manhunt is currently underway for Jackson after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“Soon after news spread about Jackson’s home being searched, he went on the run,” Merced Police said.

Dhante Jackson Samantha Johnson Pd

Sophia’s cousin, Melanie Verlatti, told local station KTVU that Sophia’s family had tried to warn authorities for years that she was in danger while in her mother’s custody.

“This could have been totally avoided,” she said, adding that the family had seen troubling warning signs.

“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,” she said. “That something could happen. And nothing was ever done. She kind of fell through the cracks of the system.”

According to Verlatti, Johnson drifted in and out of her daughter’s life and when she did resurface, she’d take the young girl out of school or move with her to various hotels.

“Her life with her mom wasn’t a good one,” Verlatti said. “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 said that although the family hadn’t seen Sophia since the holidays, Sophia had called her aunt about two weeks before she was reported missing.

“My aunt received a phone call from Sophia, and she said, ‘Sophia, where are you?’ Because she hadn’t seen her, she has been missing. And she said, ‘I’m with my daddy, I’m at the house with my daddy.’”

Anyone with information about the case, is urged to contact authorities.

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