HAYWARD, Calif. (KRON) — A man suspected of murdering his girlfriend’s 8-year-old daughter was still at-large Tuesday afternoon, Hayward police told KRON4 news.
Homicide detectives around the San Francisco Bay Area and Merced County are searching for 34-year-old Dhante Jackson.
Jackson went on the lam after investigators found an 8-year-old girl’s body inside his Merced home on March 11. The Merced County Sheriff’s Coroner Bureau identified the girl as Sophia Mason.
Sophia was reported as missing by her aunt to Hayward police on March 8. She was last seen alive in the custody of her mother, 31-year-old Samantha Johnson, in December.
A coroner has not yet released Sophia’s cause of death.
Johnson frequently moved around with her daughter living in various cities, including one home on B Street in Hayward, another on Barclay Way in Merced, and a third home in Newark.
Sophia was most recently living in Hayward before her death.
The girl’s family members told KRON4 that Johnson neglected her daughter.
“Family members made repeated reports that Sophia was in danger,” Johnson’s cousin, Melissa Harris, told KRON4.
At times, the mother and daughter lived on the streets, in motels, or in women’s shelters.
“Samantha would take her out of school often and move around the state, often leaving Sophia in motel rooms alone at night while the mom engaged in illegal activities,” Harris said.
Detectives found Johnson in Newark on March 10. She was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County on charges of homicide and child abuse two days later.
Detectives uncovered enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for Jackson’s home on Barclay Way in Merced. Inside, police made the grisly discovery.
Jackson went on the run just before police were able to search his home and find the girl’s body.
“Jackson is outstanding and it is believed he is evading arrest. Jackson is known to frequent the Bay Area,” Hayward police wrote.
According to Harris, Sophia’s extended family members fought for years to gain custody of the girl because they suspected that Sophia was being neglected and abused.
“A couple of years ago, my aunt and Samantha’s sister began noticing that Samantha was becoming increasingly mentally unstable. They were worried about child abuse and the authorities were contacted. CPS said there was nothing they could do as long as the child is with her biological parent,” Harris said.
“Samantha would disappear for extended periods and leave Sophia … and then swoop back in and take her from the safety of her grandmother’s home again,” Harris told KRON4.
Harris said at one point, hospital workers alerted CPS that Sophia had wounds and scars suggesting that she was physically abused. According to Harris, CPS failed to follow up with an investigation into Sophia’s wellbeing.
Johnson was scheduled to appear in an Alameda County courtroom on Tuesday. She will later be transported to a Merced County courthouse to enter a plea.
Sophia was born on Jan. 1, 2014.
“Despite living in difficult circumstances, whenever she was permitted to visit with family, she always had a smile on her face, a song to sing, and a dance to share,” wrote a GoFundMe page created by family members for Sophia’s funeral expenses.
Harris said she hopes Sophia’s tragically-short life will help bring about changes to child protective services agencies.
“It’s too late for Sophia, but maybe we can address the issues in our child welfare safety net before another child in the system dies. Sophia has paid the ultimate price. Her mom’s romantic liaison, Dhante Johnson … is now wanted for murder and on the run,” Harris told KRON4.
Anyone with information about Jackson’s whereabouts is urged to call the Hayward Police Department, or call Merced Police Department Det. John Pinnegar at 209-388-7712.