The mother of an 8-year-old Hayward girl, who was reported missing earlier this week, has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a child’s dead body was found inside a Merced home, authorities said Saturday.
Meanwhile, police are searching for the mother’s boyfriend, who was living at the home where the body was found and is believed to be on the run.
Merced police found the body of a young girl Friday while serving a search warrant at a Merced home believed to be connected with Sophia Mason, a missing 8-year-old girl from Hayward. The Merced County Coroner’s Office has not positively identified the body as Sophia’s, but they are hoping to make a determination soon, police said in a news release.
Sophia was last seen with her mother, Samantha Johnson, 30, according to police.
Johnson was initially arrested Thursday by Hayward police on suspicion of obstruction and child abuse related to a warrant stemming from a 2021 incident that occurred in Alameda County. She was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, according to the Merced Police Department. That same day, Hayward Police contacted the Merced Police Department regarding an “at-risk missing juvenile” and provided the agency with a possible address where Mason was last seen, which led them to the home in the 500 block of Barclay Way in Merced where a child’s body was found Friday.
Merced police interviewed Johnson in Santa Rita Jail on Friday evening after they discovered the child’s body and ultimately arrested her on the murder charge, authorities said. Lt. Joey Perez, a Merced police spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that Johnson gave suspicious answers when Hayward detectives questioned her about her daughter. She is expected to be transferred to the Merced County Jail.
The Merced Police Department has also issued a murder warrant for Johnson’s boyfriend, Dhante Jackson, 34, who is believed to be on the run after hearing that his home, where the body was found, was being searched by police.
Jackson is reportedly known to frequent the Bay Area and police are asking for assistance in locating him.
“This investigation is still ongoing and the exact circumstances surrounding this incident remain under investigation,” police said.
Sophia’s relatives last saw her in December, the Hayward Police Department said in an advisory asking for the public’s help in locating the missing Hayward girl on March 9.
Emerald Johnson, Sophia’s aunt, said she reported Sophia missing to Hayward police on March 8 after what she described as a “disturbing” phone call between her mother and her sister, Samantha Johnson, in which she said that she was planning to travel from Merced to the Bay Area without Sophia because she reportedly “gave her away.”
“I knew then that I had to make the report,” Emerald said in an interview.
The aunt described Sophia as a “very sweet girl” who was “always smiling” and loved to put on a show. “She’d always want us to watch her sing and dance,” she said.
Up until recently, Sophia had spent most of her life in Hayward living with her grandma — the mother of both Samantha and Emerald Johnson. But then a couple of years ago, Samantha decided that she wanted to play a bigger part in her daughter’s life, and they frequently moved between the Bay Area and Southern California, according to Emerald.
Since January 2021, Emerald said she had filed over a dozen reports with police and Child Protective Services regarding concerns about Sophia’s health and welfare under the supervision of Samantha, including the most recent missing person report.
When she heard about the body that was found in Merced, Emerald said she was devastated.
“I had this bad feeling in my stomach, but still nothing prepared me for it,” she said. “This is a nightmare, especially because we feel like this could have been prevented. Someone could have done something.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism