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Body of missing child found in California home of mother's boyfriend, officials say

The body found Thursday in a home in California's Central Valley was identified as missing 8-year-old Sophia Mason, sheriff's officials said Tuesday.

Police are searching for a California man after the body of his girlfriend's missing daughter was found in his Central Valley home, authorities said Saturday.

The body was found Thursday in Dhante Jackson's residence in Merced, police from the cities of Merced and Hayward said in separate statements.

On Thursday, the Merced County Sheriff's Office said its coroner bureau identified the remains as 8-year-old Sophia Mason, who had been reported missing March 8. The cause of death has not been released.

Sophia Mason
Sophia Mason.Hayward Police Department via AP

Jackson had been in a relationship with Sophia's mother, officials have said.

Two investigations have been launched into Sophia's case: one in Merced, where Jackson lived, and the other in the Bay Area, where a relative reported concern for the child's well-being and whereabouts to Hayward police.

Following the relative's request for help Tuesday, officers twice visited Jackson’s home in Merced in their search for Sophia and her mother, Samantha Johnson, but no one answered the door, Hayward police said.

Johnson was taken into custody Thursday. After her arrest, Hayward police said they received information that “re-confirmed” Jackson’s residence as a probable location for Sophia.

The body was discovered when Merced authorities went back to the residence, police from both departments said.

Johnson faces a murder charge connected to Sophia's case, Merced police said. She has also been jailed on charges of obstruction of an officer's investigation and corporal injury to a child, Santa Rita jail records show.

Johnson was also the subject of a child abuse investigation in 2021, and has an active warrant from the case, Merced police said.

A murder warrant has been issued for Jackson, Merced police said.

It wasn't clear if Johnson or Jackson had legal representation. The public defender's office in Merced did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Melonie Verlatti, who said she has known Sophia since she was born, told NBC Bay Area the discovery of a body in the case prompted "just complete and total shock."

"So hard to believe,” she said.