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Body Found Inside Merced Home Could be of Missing 8-Year-Old Girl: Hayward Police

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The body of a child fitting the description of a missing 8-year-old girl was found in a Merced home Friday, Hayward police said.

Investigators said the home is where 31-year-old Samantha Johnson was believed to be staying with her 8-year-old daughter Sophia Mason.

Police arrested the mother Thursday night in the Bay Area. They said she was giving suspicious answers in regards to the whereabouts of her daughter. 

Authorities confirmed Saturday afternoon that Dhante Jackson, 34, is Johnson's boyfriend and he also resides at the home where the child's body was found.

As the news spread of the home being searched, Jackson went on the run and a warrant for his arrest has been issued. He's facing murder charges, according to the Merced Police Department.

Family members told police they had not seen Sophia since December.

“Just complete and total shock, so hard to believe,” said Melonie Verlatti, who has known Sophia since she was born. 

Verlatti’s aunt Sylvia raised Sophia’s mother, and when the girl came along, she raised her too.

It was devastating when Verlatti found out she was missing. 

“We saw her a few months ago, and now to see this it doesn’t seem real,” said Verlatti, adding that keeping in contact with Sophia was a problem. 

“Periodically, her mom would come into her life, take her away and said she was going to raise her on her own, and she didn’t need my aunt to do it for her,” she said. “She wasn’t mentally competent to do it on her own. My aunt repeatedly called CPS and police, but they didn’t take her seriously.”

Sources told NBC Bay Area that Johnson, Sophia’s mother, told a family member that she had given the 8-year-old away. 

Detectives spent days tracing a number of phones belonging to Johnson, and that led them to a Newark hotel, where she was arrested.

“They made contact with the mother, Samantha Johnson, trying to find her daughter,” said Joey Perez of the Merced Police Department. “She gave some suspicious, inconsistent statements. They asked us if we could go to an address to check on the mother and child.”

Police got a search warrant and found the body of a young child they believe could be Sophia, but they have not confirmed the identity.

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