Governors and governmental departments are hurling blame in the case of Harmony Montgomery, the missing New Hampshire child whose mother told police she hadn’t seen her in over two years when she reported her disappearance in late 2021. Harmony was five years old in 2019, which is when her mother said she last saw her, via FaceTime call. 

After Harmony’s mom, Crystal Sorey, lost custody of Harmony in 2018, the child was in and out of the Massachusetts foster care system before moving to New Hampshire in the custody of her biological father, Adam Montgomery. One relative told authorities he abused her while she was in his care. Montgomery and Harmony’s stepmother face separate criminal charges related to her wellbeing. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Harmony, who would be seven years old now and whose mother has said is blind in one eye, remains missing as state officials look for where to pin responsibility. Some are focusing on a crucial step that a court seems to have skipped when granting her father custody. Experts in child welfare say there’s a bigger picture to be examined, too, in how we maintain communities and look out for our neighbors.

On Tuesday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, demanding to know why in February 2019 a judge “abruptly” granted custody to Harmony’s father. “Adam Montgomery is a monstrous drug dealer with previous convictions including shooting someone in the head and a separate armed attack on two women in Massachusetts,” Sununu wrote. (The Boston Globe reported that Montgomery pleaded guilty to charges of armed robbery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after robbing two women at gunpoint in 2008 in Massachusetts; in 2014, he got an 18-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to shooting a man in the head during a drug deal.)

The letter also revealed new details about how the child wound up in Montgomery’s care in the first place. Gov. Sununu noted that a Massachusetts judge granted custody to Montgomery without waiting for the results of a home study, which the state’s child services department asked their New Hampshire counterpart to conduct. He said that had the study been completed, there would have been “more checks in the system,” including continued family oversight, to keep Harmony safe after her father moved her to New Hampshire. “It is unclear why the Massachusetts courts moved so quickly with this permanent placement prior to the completion of the home study,” he said. “Why would the Massachusetts court choose to place custody of Harmony with this horrible individual? What caused such a fateful decision?”

The first week of January, the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate opened a review into Harmony’s case. This week, director of the office Maria Mossaides issued a statement on the matter: “The OCA is continuing an administrative review of electronic and physical records in the Harmony Montgomery case and is exploring questions as they arise during this process,” the statement said. “We are grateful for the cooperation we have received from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and the Massachusetts Juvenile Court. We continue to hope for Harmony’s safe return.”

In response to questions about Sununu’s letter, spokespeople for the Massachusetts court system and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families told Rolling Stone they were doing everything they could to help. “The Massachusetts Trial Court is cooperating fully with that review and will cooperate with other investigations as authorized by law,” said Jennifer Donahue, public information officer for the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Agency officials for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families confirmed the organization is cooperating with the investigation, including working with law enforcement, and declined to share further details of the case, due to privacy requirements.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said that he shared Sununu’s concerns. “I totally get where Governor Sununu is coming from, and we are cooperating to the fullest extent possible that we can with the Office of the Child Advocate here in Massachusetts that is reviewing the case,” he said during a press briefing. “We’re as anxious to hear what her findings are as anybody else is.”

Sununu spoke about Harmony’s case again at a Wednesday press conference. “This isn’t about blaming one system or the other,” Sununu said. “This isn’t about casting blame. It’s about bringing Harmony home.” 

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, that state’s Division of Children, Youth, and Families is undergoing its own review. Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, emphasizes that DCYF automatically conducts a review any time there’s a so-called “critical incident,” including a child going missing. The Office of the Child Advocate is an independent agency that will oversee DCYF’s review, she says. “Our perspective is to stand back and watch and make sure they do this whole process and they have the resources to do it,” she says, noting that in this case, the main objective is finding Harmony. “[State agencies are] doing all they can to assist police in their investigation.” New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth, and Families did not respond to a request for comment.

O’Neill says children in the system go missing more than most people realize. “There are a lot of kids under the radar that nobody’s looking for,” she says. “It’s really easy to be under the radar when children are homeless, when a child is bounced from a relative to a friend, when a parent has substance abuse. A lot of times people aren’t paying attention to that.” 

After Manchester Police opened a missing person’s investigation Dec. 27, Montgomery’s uncle told officers in an interview that Mongtomery had abused Harmony. He said he’d called child protective services in 2019 after Montgomery allegedly admitted to giving Harmony a black eye. “I bashed her around this house,” Montgomery’s uncle claimed his nephew had told him.

On Dec. 31, police found Montgomery sleeping inside his car. He reportedly gave contradictory statements to officers about Harmony’s whereabouts and then refused to answer more questions. On Jan. 4, police arrested Montgomery on charges, including assault and child endangerment, based on the 2019 allegations of abuse. He pleaded not guilty.

Harmony’s stepmother, Kayla Montgomery, was arrested days later and stands accused of collecting food stamp benefits intended for Harmony.

According to Manchester Police, the department has no updates on the search for Harmony, which remains active. “Our detectives have been working long hours, following up on tips that we have received through our dedicated tip line,” she says, adding that they’ve received around 500 tips so far. “​​The tip line is 603-203-6060, anyone with information is encouraged to call.”

According to David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, the extended period of time between a last-confirmed sighting of Harmony and when she was reported missing makes this case unusual. “It’s very hard to keep a secret of this magnitude when there are multiple people involved,” he says. 

Finkelhor says the focus right now should be on finding Harmony, who he hopes is safe somewhere, but that it looks like there have been some breakdowns in communications among agencies, which he attributes in part to American systems of governance and healthcare. “We do not have a system of central information on children; other countries have that,” he says. “We don’t have a national healthcare database; other countries have that. We don’t have a registry of who’s living in which household; other countries have that. Those are all things that help improve the level of knowledge about what’s going on with particular kids.” 

Those systems, or lack thereof, stem in part from American values, Finkelhor says. “We have a strong ideology of individualism and privacy and independence, so those things are deemed to be far too invasive,” he says. “You can imagine how, if those agencies were collaborating, people would’ve noticed sooner things like, ‘This child is not where they’re supposed to be,’ or hasn’t registered for school…or has moved out of state. Ultimately, I’m sure people will look into this question of where the ball was dropped. Right now they’re probably focused on trying to find the child.”

As New Hampshire’s child advocate, O’Neill marvels at the national attention Harmony’s case is receiving. She wishes people had noticed her before she disappeared, and hopes everyone can learn to be better neighbors to one other. “How do we capture all this energy going into figuring out how someone could be missing for two years [and channel it in]to: ‘Who’s the kids on my street and what are their names? Where do they go to school? Have I said hello to them today?’” she says. “It only takes a tiny gesture for children and their parents to feel connected to their communities. If they do, they will ask for help when they need it. People will notice when they’re missing.”

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