New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu issued a scathing rebuke Tuesday of the Massachusetts court system, demanding to know why a judge in 2019 awarded custody of Harmony Montgomery to her father, a “monster” with a violent history who is now jailed and eyed in her disappearance.
In a letter to Kimberly S. Budd, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Sununu blasted the actions of the Massachusetts courts for placing the child in the custody of her father. Sununu said that if Massachusetts had taken the appropriate steps, “the result would likely have been very different for Harmony.”
“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. “No child should ever leave Massachusetts in the custody of a dangerous criminal” like Montgomery.
Tuesday’s letter represented the first substantial public comments from state officials in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts since authorities late last month announced a massive search for the 7-year-old girl. She was in and out of the child welfare system, spending the early years of her life in Massachusetts and then later Manchester in the care of her father. She was last seen more than two years ago.
Governor Charlie Baker’s office has remained largely silent on the case, and on Tuesday declined to address Sununu’s comments.
Massachusetts Court System spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue said in a statement that the state’s Office of the Child Advocate, which provides oversight of the state services for children, is investigating. “The Massachusetts Trial Court is cooperating fully with that investigation and will cooperate with other investigations as authorized by law,” Donahue said.
Authorities in New Hampshire first learned of Harmony’s disappearance in November, when the girl’s mother, Crystal Sorey — who’d lost custody of the child in 2018 — alerted police that she hadn’t seen her daughter in months.
Sununu’s letter, which his office shared with the media, shed new light on the process by which Harmony ended up with her father in February 2019.
Sununu wrote that in 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families asked New Hampshire’s child welfare agency to conduct a home study of Adam Montgomery and his wife, Kayla, as part of transferring Harmony’s case. Adam Montgomery, who lived in New Hampshire, was vying for custody and DCF was involved.
According to Sununu, New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families responded to that request, stating that it needed additional information about the Montgomerys — and their history with Massachusetts’ child welfare system — before conducting the home study.
While the New Hampshire agency was “waiting for the necessary information,” Sununu wrote, a juvenile court judge in Lawrence awarded her father custody.
“It is unclear why the Massachusetts courts moved so quickly with this permanent placement prior to the completion of the home study,” Sununu wrote. “Why would the Massachusetts court choose to place custody of Harmony with this horrible individual?
“What caused such a fateful decision?”
Questions about how, exactly, Montgomery was awarded custody of the child have sparked an outcry, though little information has been released publicly. Nearly every aspect of the case — from the name of the judge to the recommendations filed by state child welfare authorities — is shielded from public view, unknown to all but a few.
What is clear, however, is that by the time Montgomery assumed custody of the child, his lengthy criminal record was readily available to anyone who looked in court files.
Among Montgomery’s convictions is a 2008 robbery in which he burst into a Malden apartment and demanded money from two women at gunpoint, according to a Malden police report. Police claimed he also pointed the gun — later determined to be a pellet gun — at an officer’s chest before Montgomery was wrestled to the ground. Montgomery pleaded guilty to armed robbery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
A few years later, in 2014, he received an 18-month suspended sentence in Massachusetts for shooting a man in the head during a drug deal.
Montgomery is currently facing charges in New Hampshire of assault and child endangerment in relation to Harmony — though he has not been charged in her disappearance. Kayla Montgomery, who is Harmony’s stepmother, has been charged with welfare fraud for allegedly pocketing state benefit payments meant for the girl.
Sununu on Tuesday said that had Massachusetts officials waited for New Hampshire to conduct a home study, there would have been additional “checks in the system,” and continued oversight of the family.
“This home study likely would have proven that Adam Montgomery was unfit,” Sununu wrote. The result, he added, “would likely have been very different for Harmony.”
Sununu’s letter said that the interstate exchange of information about Harmony — “a standard request in such cross-border cases” — was never carried out by Massachusetts prior to the judge’s custody ruling.
These types of exchanges can be part of a cumbersome process that typically takes months, said Andrew Hoffman, a lawyer who handles family and child welfare issues.
”I’ve likened it to a game of connect the dots — you have to figure out whose inbox it’s sitting in and figure out where to push,” he said. And a case like Harmony’s rarely involves two state agencies in such contention, he added.
“I’m not surprised at all that each state would try to pin it on the other.”
Meanwhile, Timothy Flanagan Jr., the brother of Crystal Sorey and uncle to Harmony, said Tuesday that Sununu’s comments struck him as an effort to shift attention away from New Hampshire officials.
“You’re just passing the buck,” said Flanagan, who believes both Massachusetts and New Hampshire officials failed his niece. “The fourth leg of the relay [team] doesn’t stop running because they didn’t like the handoff.”
Harmony’s case isn’t the only one to roil New Hampshire’s child welfare system in recent months. In October, the body of 5-year-old Elijah Lewis was found in a wooded area in Massachusetts 10 days after he was reported missing. New Hampshire DCYF initially reported the boy missing to law enforcement. His mother and her boyfriend are jailed in New Hampshire on charges including child endangerment and witness tampering.
In his letter Tuesday, Sununu also demanded that Massachusetts officials share information and assist in a review of the case currently being carried out by New Hampshire child welfare officials.
“You owe it to Harmony Montgomery, her loved ones, and the public to fully cooperate in handing over the imperative information on this case that could help provide answers and assist with our search,” he wrote.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at email@example.com. Elizabeth Koh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh.