The e-mail from the girl’s mother rang of desperation.
Her daughter, she wrote, had been missing for months, in the custody of a troubled father. The New Hampshire child welfare agency had done “nothing” to help her, she added, and the 7-year-old girl, blind in one eye, was no longer attending vital doctor’s appointments she’d had since birth.
“Please,” Crystal Sorey wrote in a Dec. 29 e-mail to Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, “im begging for help in finding my daughter.”
That newly released e-mail was the capstone, Sorey said, of months of unsuccessful pleading with New Hampshire officials to help locate her daughter, Harmony, who was last seen more than two years ago and is now at the center of a sprawling investigation. Records show Sorey first alerted Manchester police of the girl’s disappearance in a Nov. 18 phone call.
The actions of both police and child welfare officials — including a lengthy delay in opening a probe — have come under sharp scrutiny as the search for Harmony presses on.
“It just baffles me that this is where we are right now,” Sorey said in a recent interview. “Because nobody wanted to listen to me because of my past. . . . I’m still a person, my daughter’s still a person. She’s somebody.”
Sorey and another relative said Sorey’s troubled history — which includes criminal charges and substance abuse issues — made it easier for police to dismiss her concerns. They allege that authorities started to take the matter seriously only after Sorey e-mailed the mayor on Dec. 29, pleading for help and threatening to go to the media with her complaints.
Police said they officially opened an investigation on Dec. 27, nearly a month and a half after Sorey first reached out to the department for help. Authorities have since arrested Harmony’s father and stepmother on charges tied to abuse or fraud related to the girl, but have yet to implicate anyone in her disappearance.
Heather Hamel, spokeswoman for Manchester police, said that “immediately” after receiving Sorey’s Nov. 18 call, the department contacted New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families and obtained previous addresses associated with Adam Montgomery. Officers conducted checks on those addresses, she said, and were unable to locate the girl or her father.
The department offered little in the way of specifics — including how many addresses police searched — and declined to provide a clear timeline of its actions between Nov. 18 and Dec. 29.
Citing confidentiality laws, DCYF has declined to comment on the case.
Montgomery, who has a lengthy criminal record and was convicted of shooting a man in the head during a 2014 drug deal, was granted custody of Harmony in February 2019 by a juvenile court judge in Lawrence.
Days after police opened the investigation into Harmony’s disappearance, officers located him in Manchester, records show, where he was sleeping in a car and refused to provide information on his daughter’s whereabouts.
At a press conference Wednesday, Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg declined to offer details on the investigation but defended the department’s work.
“I get that that narrative wants to be out there — that the public, family perhaps, whoever, is looking to blame somebody,” Aldenberg said. “And I think that’s a natural reaction when it comes to things like this. I’m just not going to do that right now.”
“I will tell you that I’m extremely confident in the work that was done by the Manchester Police Department.”
Sorey, who lost custody of Harmony in 2018 while battling substance abuse issues, said she first began searching in earnest for her daughter in 2019, after the girl’s father and his wife blocked all communication with her.
After losing custody, Sorey, 31, had bounced in and out of sober homes and shelters.
Before reaching out to police, Sorey said, she called schools in New Hampshire where she thought Harmony might be enrolled, paid for Internet search tools to obtain addresses linked to Adam Montgomery, and made repeated attempts to reach New Hampshire’s child welfare agency.
“I didn’t just sit around and say, ‘Oh, they took my daughter, I’m just going to get high, man,’ ” she said. “By the time detectives got involved, I had probably about 16 e-mails [full] of information for them already . . . because I had already been looking for her for a year and a half.”
Margo Lindauer, director of the Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University, said that in cases like this, the credibility of people with a substance abuse disorder is often called into question.
“This mother was trying to find her daughter for years, it sounds like, and no one really believed her,” Lindauer said. “How many times did the biological mother reach out . . . only to be roadblocked?”
After a Massachusetts juvenile court judge awarded Montgomery custody in early 2019, police were a regular presence at his Manchester home.
Reports obtained through a records request show that between June and November 2019, police received 10 calls to the residence, more than half of which involved a domestic disturbance or concerns over living conditions on the property.
That August, a neighbor called police to report concerns over a “young child” in the home and that the family was illegally living at the house. Police determined following a visit that “all is well,” according to a report.
On Sept. 11, 2019, the last time police say they saw Harmony, an officer dispatched to the home for a domestic dispute observed that it was cluttered with clothing and empty food containers. Montgomery told police the electricity had been turned off for “several months,” according to a report. An officer noted a working generator and determined that children in the home appeared clean and fed.
“Although this area was highly disheveled, it did not appear unsafe,” the officer wrote.
Nevertheless, the following day Manchester police notified the state’s child welfare agency of the visit, records show. It is unknown whether the agency followed up.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at email@example.com. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.