Manhunt launched in California after child’s body found in search for missing eight-year-old Sophia Mason

Police in the Golden State have arrested the child’s mother Samantha Johnson

Io Dodds
San Francisco
Monday 14 March 2022 14:34 GMT
Sophia Mason
Sophia Mason (Hayward Police Department via AP)

A 34-year-old man is "on the run" in California after police investigating the disappearance of eight-year-old Sophia Mason found the body of a child in his home.

The Merced Police Department said on Saturday that they had obtained a warrant to arrest Dhante Jackson for murder following a search of his house in Merced.

Officers also charged Sophia's mother Samantha Johnson, 30, from Hayward in the San Francisco Bay Area, with murder. They described Mr Jackson as her boyfriend.

A spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that they were still examining the body found in Mr Jackson's house, and hoped to identify it within a few days.

Meanwhile, a woman identifying herself as Sophia's aunt Emerald Johnson posted on Instagram on Saturday that her niece had been found dead.

In a previous post, the woman described Ms Johnson as mentally ill and said she had been asking police and child protection officials to intervene since last year. She said Sophia had told her she was being abused and neglected.

After the body was found, Emerald Johnson told the Bay-based Mercury News that she reported Sophia missing on 8 March after a "disturbing phone call" between her mother and her sister, in which Ms Johnson claimed she "gave [Sophia] away".

“I had this bad feeling in my stomach, but still nothing prepared me for it," Emerald Johnson said. "This is a nightmare, especially because we feel like this could have been prevented. Someone could have done something."

According to the Merced Police Department, officers in Hayward arrested Ms Johnson on Thursday on a warrant arising from a "child abuse incident" in 2021.

The officers then requested help from their colleagues in Merced after receiving information that Sophia Mason was last seen in their city.

The spokesperson said Ms Johnson had given suspicious answers when detectives asked her about her daughter. Sophia's relatives last saw her in December.

On Saturday, a person claiming to be a friend of Emerald Johnson started a GoFundMe page seeking money to "give Sophia the burial she truly deserves".

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