Mom of missing 8-year-old girl arrested on suspicion of murder, Merced police say

A map of the Central Valley shows where a girl's body was found at a home in Merced

The mother of an 8-year-old girl who was last seen by family in December but was reported missing only this week has been arrested on suspicion of murder, Merced, Calif., police said Saturday.

Police found the body of an adolescent girl Friday while serving a search warrant at a home in Merced believed to be connected to the disappearance of the girl, Sophia Mason, according to authorities. Investigators don’t yet know whether the body is Sophia’s but hope to make an identification soon.

The girl was believed to be with her mother, Samantha Johnson, 30, of Hayward, who was arrested Thursday by Hayward police and booked into Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County on suspicion of obstruction and child abuse, according to authorities and jail records.


Merced police interviewed Johnson at the jail about the body found in the house and later arrested her on the murder charge, authorities said. She remains in custody there and will eventually be transferred to the Merced County Jail, police said.

Police have also issued a murder warrant for Johnson’s boyfriend, Dhante Jackson, 34, of Merced. He was living at the home where the body was found and he fled soon after news spread that the home was being searched. He is known to spend time in the Bay Area, police said.

Hayward police had reached out to Merced police Friday to ask for help in an investigation into Sophia’s whereabouts, according to information provided by both departments.

Sophia, of Merced, was last seen by family in December. She was reported missing to Hayward police Tuesday, authorities said.

Johnson gave suspicious answers when Hayward detectives questioned her about her daughter, said Lt. Joey Perez, a Merced police spokesman.

Through their joint investigation with Hayward authorities, Merced police linked the girl and her mother to a home in the 500 block of Barclay Way in Merced, Perez said.


Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Det. John Pinnegar with the Merced Police Department at (209) 388-7712 or email him at