Governors express concern over handling of case of missing 7-year-old girl and call for further review

The governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts are pressing for reviews of how officials handled the custody case of a 7-year-old girl who was reported missing in November.

Harmony Montgomery was reported missing in November 2021 by her mother, Crystal Sorey, who said she last saw the girl during a FaceTime call in spring 2019. Police say Harmony was last seen in October of 2019.

Last month, officials with the New Hampshire Division of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) said it was unable to locate the child, which triggered a police investigation.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu wrote a scathing letter to the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday, questioning why a Massachusetts court placed Harmony in the custody of her father before New Hampshire children’s services officials could ensure the safety of his home.

“Only as an unfortunate result of Harmony’s disappearance has New Hampshire come to learn the full extent of the family’s background and the type of upbringing Harmony faced prior to arriving in New Hampshire,” the governor wrote in the letter.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd received Sununu’s letter, according to spokesperson Jennifer Donahue.

“The Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate has opened an investigation into this tragic situation,” Donahue added.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker echoed Sununu’s concerns about the court’s handling of the case.

“I totally get where Gov. Sununu is coming from,” Baker said during a news conference. “And we are cooperating to the fullest extent possible that we can with the Office of the Child Advocate here in Massachusetts, which is reviewing this case and has the ability to access the data that’s necessary to figure out exactly what happened.”

Harmony’s father arrested in early January

Court records allege Harmony was physically abused by her father, Adam Montgomery, who was arrested in early January and charged in connection with her disappearance.

Montgomery was charged with second-degree felony assault, two misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and one misdemeanor count of interference with custody, according to court documents.

Prosecutors allege Montgomery knowingly caused bodily injury to Harmony by “striking her in the face” sometime in July 2019, knowingly concealed her from DCYF, and refused to provide police with information about her whereabouts, according to the complaint.

Court records indicate Montgomery has not yet entered a plea to the charges. He is due to appear in court again in early March. CNN has reached out to Montgomery and an attorney for him seeking comment.

Harmony’s mother reached out to the mayor’s office in Manchester, New Hampshire, via an email on December 29 seeking officials’ help in finding her, according to the emails obtained by CNN through New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law.

“Please im begging for help in finding my daughter,” Sorey wrote in an email to Mayor Joyce Craig’s office.

Sorey describes herself as a single mother of three who only has custody of two of her three children. She explained that Harmony’s father has custody of her daughter and that he’s “currently homeless & under the influence.”

Sorey wrote that DCYF officials had failed to remove her daughter from Montgomery’s custody when “they witnessed her bruises” and that the house she was living in at the time had no running water.

About two hours after Sorey sent the email, an official identified as a community engagement manager from the office responded saying, “The city doesn’t have jurisdiction over DCYF or the court system” and encouraged her to contact New Hampshire Legal Assistance for help.

The official advised Sorey to call 911 if she felt her daughter was “in immediate danger of physical harm” and provided a police non-emergency phone number, the emails show.

Sorey has not responded to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.

The timeline of Harmony’s missing case

Sorey told police that she lost custody of Harmony to Montgomery in July 2018 partially because of substance abuse issues and that she’d been unable to locate her since then despite multiple attempts, according to a redacted affidavit filed on January 5..

On November 18, Sorey reported Harmony missing and told police she hadn’t seen her in more than six months.

After police began their search, DCYF notified them on December 27 that the agency could not locate Harmony, which led the Manchester Police Department to open an investigation.

On December 30, the Manchester Police Department contacted Montgomery’s younger brother, who “had concerns that Adam was physically abusive.”

Officers also interviewed Montgomery’s uncle, who said he had not seen his nephew or Harmony since late 2019. The uncle also told police that he saw Harmony with a black eye in July 2019 and notified DCYF. He said Montgomery told him he had caused the black eye by striking Harmony, who would have been 5 at the time, police said in the affidavit.

Montgomery’s uncle recalled to police other forms of “abusive discipline” against Harmony, including her being “spanked hard on the butt,” being forced to stand in a corner for hours and being ordered by her father to scrub a toilet with her toothbrush, the affidavit explains.

Kayla Montgomery, Adam’s wife, told police on December 31 that she last saw Harmony around November or December 2019 when Adam told her he was driving Harmony to her mother in Massachusetts, according to the affidavit. Kayla added that she hasn’t contacted Adam since November 2021 and that he was now living with another woman, the affidavit said.

Later on December 31, officers found Adam and his girlfriend sleeping in a car in Manchester, the affidavit states. Upon questioning, Adam gave police conflicting accounts. At one point, he told police Harmony was fine and that he had seen her “somewhat recently.” Later, he said he had not seen Harmony since Sorey picked her up around Thanksgiving 2019.

Sorey has “outright denied” ever taking custody of Harmony or ever seeing her after the FaceTime call around Easter 2019, police said.

DCYF did not respond to CNN’s inquiries about when it was notified of Harmony’s disappearance, but a spokesperson for New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) — which operates DCYF — said in a statement that they “are limited on what (they) can say by federal and state laws requiring confidentiality of child protection cases.”

“We can confirm that as soon as the State learned that Harmony was no longer with her caregiver, immediate steps were taken and an investigation was initiated. Finding Harmony remains our top priority,” DHHS Communications Director Jake Leon said.

Court’s handling of case criticized

Sununu also asked for his state’s DCYF to conduct an expedited review of the case.

In December 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families requested that the New Hampshire Division of Children Youth and Families conduct a “home study,” which is an assessment of a family’s suitability to be caregivers for a child, of Montgomery and his then-wife, Kayla Montgomery, according to his letter.

The New Hampshire DCYF asked for more information on the couple’s interactions with Massachusetts DCF, Sununu said, but while New Hampshire was waiting for a response from Massachusetts, a court granted Adam Montgomery sole custody of Harmony in February 2019.

“It is unclear why the Massachusetts courts moved so quickly with this permanent placement prior to the completion of the home study,” Sununu wrote in the letter addressed to Budd.

Sununu also wrote that Harmony’s father has previous convictions, including crimes of violence.

The governor spoke again about the case at a separate press conference on Wednesday, stating he spoke to his Massachusetts counterpart on the issue. He emphasized that the state is doing its own internal review, and that part of the process is “making some demands on the judicial system of Massachusetts that made absolutely unbelievable decisions.”

“I talked to Gov. Baker about this, he shares my anger,” said Sununu. “We’re going to do our internal review, he wants the same accountability on his side because we’re in New England. We have all these states, families are transient. We all have to get on the same page.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.