If the disappearance of Harmony Montgomery, a 7-year-old New Hampshire girl with Massachusetts ties, evokes a disturbing sense of deja vu, it should.
Just a few months ago, another child from New Hampshire was lost in a cross-border vortex of family dysfunction and the inability of government to hear the silent screams of invisible children.
In October, Elijah Lewis, 5 years old and at the mercy of adults who couldn’t take care of themselves let alone him, disappeared from his home in Merrimack, N.H. Ten days after he was reported missing, his body, malnourished and covered in sores that spoke of restraints, was found in a wooded area of Abington.
We still don’t know who killed Elijah, whose death was ruled a homicide, any more than we know where Harmony is.
We do know both children shared the misfortune of having parents who struggled with substance abuse and were entangled with the courts and other agencies to the degree that their home lives were a mess; that both Elijah and Harmony fell through the cracks of a system unable to keep pace with such familial dysfunction.
We do know that Harmony’s father was charged with beating her, that his estranged wife was charged with using the missing girl as a literal meal ticket, that the broken relationships between the maternal and paternal sides of her family left her a little girl lost long before she was reported missing.
Given that Harmony was last seen two years ago by anyone with a conscience or a memory that could withstand indifference or Fifth Amendment concerns, there are far more questions than answers at this point.
The pre-eminent one is: How on earth could any sentient being believe that Harmony was better off with her biological father, a walking docket number named Adam Montgomery, when there was a stable, committed couple who had already adopted her younger brother and were willing to adopt Harmony, too?
Blair Miller and his husband, Johnathan, who adopted Harmony’s brother Jamison, say they were told by Massachusetts Department of Children and Families officials they were too late, that Harmony had already been reunited with her father.
Juvenile court records are confidential in Massachusetts, so there is no public paper trail that would explain the reasoning used in awarding custody to Adam Montgomery. The child welfare agencies in New Hampshire and Massachusetts aren’t talking, citing privacy rules. At some point, they must explain themselves.
Authorities in New Hampshire, where Harmony was last thought to be living with her father, did not become aware of her disappearance until Nov. 18, when her mother contacted police in Manchester to report her missing.
Adam Pertman, president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, said given what’s in the public domain, it’s patently obvious that Harmony would have been better off with the couple who adopted her brother than with a father who has been in and out of jail.
Child welfare agencies prioritize keeping children with relatives, but the rules of confidentiality cited by authorities make it impossible to judge the wisdom of those decisions, he said.
“I don’t have a problem with a culture of privacy and confidentiality when we’re talking about the most vulnerable children,” Pertman said. “But it can’t be all there is. It’s a system in conflict with itself. If you make it impervious to the needs as they arise, you eliminate judgment from the equation. Where is the judgment in this case?”
By beating his daughter, by constantly getting into legal trouble, Adam Montgomery demonstrated he had no business caring for Harmony. Who judged otherwise, and why?
When Manchester police tracked Adam Montgomery down New Year’s Eve, he was uncooperative, seemingly more concerned about incriminating himself than helping police find Harmony.
Police officers, desperate to locate Harmony, were struck by his indifference. The tattooed tear next to Adam Montgomery’s eye was not joined by any real ones.
Harmony, we are told, was blind in one eye. Those who should have been looking out for her were blind in both.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at email@example.com.