What happened to missing girl Sophie Long?

The case inspired an online movement and Qanon conspiracies

<p>Sophie Long, 11, has been found in a foreign country and her father, Michael Long, is in police custody</p>

Sophie Long, 11, has been found in a foreign country and her father, Michael Long, is in police custody

Sophie Long, an 11-year-old from Texas who suddenly disappeared during a bitter custody battle and set off frenzied speculation online, has been found.

Authorities said they found the girl living safely in an undisclosed foreign country with her father, Michael Long, who had refused to hand Sophie over to her maternal aunt in a custody dispute.

Both will be returned to the United States, where Mr Long will face felony charges. Officials say they will release more information once Sophie is safely in the country.

“Many months of determined work by my deputies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Marshals paid off this morning,” Sheriff Jim Skinner of the Collin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Saturday. “We are so happy Sophie is safe.”

Sophie’s disappearance inspired both Qanon conspiracy theories and a #StandwithSophie movement. Here’s what you need to know about the case:

When did the #StandwithSophie movement begin?

Sophie’s parents Kelly and Michael Long divorced in 2015, but Sophie’s story first came to public attention in 2020, when Michael Long released a since-banned YouTube video where Sophie claims that she was sexually abused by her mother’s fiancé. In the video, posted in August, Sophie says “Mr Jake” touched her inappropriately, a reference to her mother Kelly Long’s fiancé Jacob Wayne Bellington, who denies wrongdoing.

The clip was seen widely, inspiring a #StandwithSophie movement online, as well as a deluge of calls to local police from Qanon conspiracists.Local police seemed to contradict these claims, announcing that same month that Sophie was “safe and staying at a safe location”.

Michael Long and his current wife continued to allege Sophie had suffered abuse in her mother’s home, including starting a GoFundMe that claimed she was “continuously subjected to domestic violence, sexual grooming, and most recently molestation/rape in her primary residence”. The page raised more than $212,000.

In September of 2020, attorneys for Kelly Long said these claims were “entirely unfounded” and contrary to the findings of police and medical authorities, arguing that Michael Long was trying to gain leverage in the custody fight.

“We are unfortunately dealing with a very volatile and increasingly dangerous situation,” the statement continued. “Michael Long will seemingly stop at nothing to destroy his ex-wife, even if it wreaks massive psychological damage on his family and involves stealing money from the public through false claims.”

Mr Bellington, Kelly Long’s partner, also vehemently denied the allegations.

“To be honest with you, Michael has wasted more of my time than anyone else in my life,” Bellington told The Daily Beast.

“The guy’s a piece of s**t. I’m trying to piece my family back together, he’s completely ripped it apart. He’s jealous of me. He can’t handle the fact that I invest myself and my time in the kids’ lives. He’s a lazy sack of shit who can’t hold a job —supposedly he ‘empowers’ rocks, he finds rocks or ‘mystic sands’ that he’s got on his parents’ property where he lives.”

A court appointed attorney representing the interests of Sophie and her two brothers found that the video appeared “self-produced” and “heavily edited”, recommending Kelly Long get full custody.

When did Sophie go missing?

Sophie was last seen in a public setting on 11 July, before Michael Long went into hiding with the girl. That month, he had been scheduled to hand Sophie over to a separate family member, as well as ordered to pay $20,000 to cover the cost of family reunification therapy between Sophie and her mother, but failed to appear in court.

The Texas Department of Public Safety then issued an abduction bulletin, warning, Sophie was “believed to be with her non-custodial parent, Michael Long, and may be en route to Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Mexico or Argentina”.

“It has been 10 days since Sophie went missing,” Kourtney Chalmers, Michael Long’s current wife, posted on Facebook in July, adding, “A psychological evaluation reported Michael is not a stable person for Sophie to be with and he has threatened to flee the country with her.”

The day before a court hearing in August, Michael Long met with a reporter for The Daily Mail in an undisclosed location, where he doubled down, saying “I’d absolutely go to jail to protect Sophie. I’d do anything for her. She’s a 10-year-old child.”

He said he would only appear in court if he could get a full jury trial, which Kelly Long has opposed, instead seeking that her ex-husband be jailed for over a year on accusations of hiding Sophie and not cooperating during the custody process.

“She shouldn’t have to be dealing with this stuff. These high conflict custody cases, this wasn’t about getting into a custody case. This was about getting justice for my daughter,” Mr Long added. “It turned into that because the system didn’t take action as they promised they would. People like to say this is a vendetta against my ex. No, it’s not.” The Daily Mail report also noted that Sophie “appeared happy and at ease with her father, and was keen to tell DailyMail.com about the A grades she received at school and her favorite classes, including English and art.”

What happens now?

Authorities plan to release more details about Sophie once she’s safely returned to the country. Michael long will face a felony charge of interference with child custody.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in