Authorities in central California announced Sunday that they had apprehended a suspect in the death of an 8-year-old girl who had been missing since October and whose body had been found in a home there in March.
Police and the California attorney general’s office announced on Saturday that Dhante Jackson, a suspect in the murder of Sophia Mason, had been arrested in the city of Newark in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lt. Joe Perez of the Merced Police Department said at a press conference on Sunday that investigations showed the child was subjected to constant physical abuse, malnourishment, and forced to live in a shed in the backyard of Jackson’s home.
Prosecutors claim Jackson had an intimate relationship with Samantha Johnson, the 30-year-old mother of the child victim who was arrested in March and has pleaded not guilty to murder and child abuse.
Jackson, 34, has been charged with murder as well as aggravated child abuse. On Sunday, it was unclear whether or not he is represented by counsel.
Perez said that four other people were detained on Saturday on suspicion of aiding Jackson in his escape.
This is the most disturbing and horrific case I have seen in my 20 years as a law enforcement officer, the lieutenant said.
Relatives in Hayward, California, reported that they hadn’t heard from Sophia since December, and police found out that she frequented several different spots in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.
Police in Hayward say they found Johnson after receiving a missing person report and arrested him on a warrant from a child abuse case in Alameda County from a year ago.
After hearing Johnson’s statements, Hayward police requested the help of the Merced Police Department, who executed a search warrant at Jackson’s residence in Merced in March.
According to court records, Merced police discovered Sophia’s body in a bathtub inside a locked bathroom.
When questioned by a Merced police detective, Johnson said that she and her boyfriend, Jackson, had locked Sophia in a shed while he physically and sexually abused the young girl.
According to documents obtained by the Bay Area News Group, Sophia told social workers twice that her mother had choked and hit her.
According to the records, a social worker and a teacher once voiced serious concerns about indicators of abuse.
Sylvia Johnson, Sophia’s grandmother, filed a wrongful death suit against Alameda County last week, claiming the county’s Department of Child and Family Services failed to take adequate measures to safeguard Sophia.
According to the news outlet on Sunday, Alameda County has 45 days to respond to the family’s claims, and if no settlement is offered by the county and the claim is rejected, the family has six months to file a lawsuit.