MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Seven months to the day that an 8-year-old girl went missing, the Merced Police Department announced the arrest of a second suspect accused of her homicide.
8-year-old Sophia Mason was reported missing to the Hayward Police Department on February 10.
One month later, officials said her body was discovered inside of a bathtub at a Merced home.
On Sunday morning, Merced police held a press conference to discuss the details of Dhante Jackson’s arrest the day prior in Newark, California.
“After several months of hard work, I’m proud to announce the arrest of Dhante Jackson for the murder of Sophia Mason,” said Lt. Joseph Perez during the press conference.
“Sophia’s mother, Samantha Johnson was already in police custody charged with her murder, and the detectives immediately named Dhante Jackson also as a suspect in Sophia’s murder, and that’s when the manhunt began,” added Lt. Perez.
While Johnson was arrested early in the investigation, officials said Jackson was able to elude police for nearly seven months
“Detectives acted on evidence quickly to track Jackson’s location, but he had the help of several people to elude his capture,” Lt. Perez explained.
Detectives said Deburka Johnson of San Jose, Larona Larkins of Merced, and Mayra Gonzalez of Newark all helped Jackson hide from police.
“He had the help of several female acquaintances during the investigation they learned that several of these females had assisted Jackson by providing him with money, shelter, and transportation,” said Lt. Perez.
Lt. Perez, who led the investigation, said it was one of the worst cases of child abuse and neglect he’d ever seen.
“To know what that poor little angel went through at the hands of pure evil breaks my heart,” he said. “I will never understand how this could happen to a beautiful child who just wanted to be loved.”
When the body of Sophia was found inside the home, officials said she had been dead for nearly one month. The three women who allegedly helped Jackson elude police are all facing charges of accessory to murder after the fact.