New Hampshire authorities announced additional charges Thursday tied to the case of a missing Manchester 7-year-old who was last seen more than two years ago.
Kayla Montgomery, the wife of a man charged in connection with the 2019 disappearance of his daughter, Harmony Montgomery, was arrested Wednesday on a felony count of welfare fraud for allegedly collecting government assistance benefits meant for the missing child, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella.
The arrest came just a day after Kayla Montgomery’s estranged husband, Adam Montgomery, also 31, was charged with assault and other counts tied to the fall 2019 disappearance of his daughter, Harmony.
One relative told police that Adam Montgomery aggressively spanked Harmony, forced her to stand in a corner for hours, and ordered her to scrub a toilet with her toothbrush, according to court records. Montgomery’s uncle told police that his nephew admitted in 2019 to striking the little girl so hard that she was left with a black eye.
The child’s whereabouts remain a mystery, prompting a multistate investigation that has raised questions about the child welfare systems in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and how a child can go missing for two years.
On Thursday, for the second straight day, Massachusetts officials offered little or no insight into the state juvenile court’s decision in February 2019 to place Harmony in the custody of her father. Montgomery has a lengthy criminal history, including a 2014 conviction for shooting a man in the face during a botched drug deal.
In an e-mail, the Department of Children and Families said it was cooperating with the investigation, but couldn’t share further details because of “federal and state privacy requirements.” The agency and Governor Charlie Baker’s office did not respond to a question about whether DCF supported the juvenile court’s decision to grant Adam Montgomery custody of Harmony. Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts court system, also declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate.
In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Child Advocate said the agency could not disclose information from juvenile cases or court proceedings, and referred inquiries to the court.
The new welfare fraud charge filed in New Hampshire alleges that Kayla Montgomery — who is not Harmony’s biological mother — obtained more than $1,500 in food stamp benefits. Authorities say Montgomery failed to remove Harmony from a family account with New Hampshire’s Division of Family Assistance and continued to collect food stamp benefits for Harmony, even though the child was no longer living with Kayla and Adam Montgomery.
An affidavit filed in court said Kayla Montgomery submitted documents to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services indicating Harmony had come to live with her and her husband. She said the girl was “living with us full time” and had been born permanently blind in one eye.
As a result of the report, the state benefit account allotted to the couple increased by $129 monthly, starting March 1, 2019, according to court records. Authorities said the Montgomerys have three children together.
On June 2, 2021, court filings allege, Kayla Montgomery told the state that Harmony had moved back with her mother.
When asked about receiving food stamp assistance for Harmony for more than a year after that time, police said, “Kayla acknowledged receiving those benefits knowingly.”
She was arraigned late Thursday morning in Hillsborough County Superior Court North, and pleaded not guilty. The judge did not enter a ruling on bail and instead took the matter under advisement.
Her husband, meanwhile, remains jailed and eyed in Harmony’s disappearance. Authorities allege he refused to tell Manchester police where Harmony was.
Adam Montgomery didn’t appear in court Wednesday as initially scheduled, but a judge ordered him held without bail “based on clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s release will endanger the safety of the defendant or of the public,” according to court records.
Montgomery faces a charge of felony second-degree assault allegedly against Harmony in 2019, a misdemeanor count of interference with custody, and two misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child pertaining to Harmony, authorities said.
A Manchester police affidavit described him as uncooperative during a Dec. 31 interview with police. At the time, Montgomery was living in a car with a new girlfriend, court records said.
In a Dec. 31 interview with police, court records allege, Adam Montgomery told officers that he’d last seen Harmony on Thanksgiving 2019 and at that time he was with her mother, who was then living in Lowell. When questioned further, however, he replied, “I have nothing else to say” and told police that he was leaving if he wasn’t under arrest.
Authorities allege he physically abused Harmony in July 2019. Kayla Montgomery denied to police ever seeing any physical abuse of Harmony, but acknowledged seeing Harmony with a black eye, according to legal filings. She said her husband told her one of the younger children had hit Harmony in the face with a toy.
Harmony’s disappearance first came to the attention of authorities on Nov. 18, when her mother, Crystal Renee Sorey, contacted Manchester police and triggered a search for Harmony.
According to court filings, Sorey told officers that day that she hadn’t seen her daughter for many months and that the child’s father had custody.
Sorey lost custody of Harmony while living in Massachusetts in 2018 because of substance abuse issues, according to police records. “Crystal said over the years she made attempts to locate the child by contacting various schools, and driving by addresses associated with Adam but was unable to make progress.”
Sorey also told investigators that both Adam and Kayla Montgomery had blocked all contact with her through phone and social media sites. She said she’d last seen Harmony “during a video call with Adam around Easter 2019.” At the time, her father was visible in the background of the video, according to court records. Her daughter, Sorey told police, seemed frightened.
Laura Crimaldi and Elizabeth Koh of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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