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Harmony Montgomery was last seen alive in Dec. 2019 living in car with father, prosecutor says

Kayla Montgomery was escorted into court for an arraignment and bail hearing.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Harmony Montgomery’s home here was chaotic, strewn with trash and often without electricity. But when her father and stepmother were evicted in the fall of 2019, conditions grew worse, according to revelations in state court Monday: The family wound up living out of two cars parked on the streets.

Several people reported seeing the couple living in the cars with their two children, as well as 5-year-old Harmony, New Hampshire officials said. And then, witnesses said, there were just two children.

“By approximately December 6-10, 2019, Adam and Kayla apparently had only their two common children, and Harmony was no longer with them,” Attorney General John M. Formella’s office said.

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As investigators search for answers in the girl’s disappearance, authorities disclosed new details about her living circumstances in the days before she went missing, narrowing the timing of her disappearance to a two-week period after the family’s Nov. 27 eviction.

Authorities said the new timeline conflicts with the account Adam Montgomery gave to law enforcement late last year, when he said the last time he saw his daughter was when he gave her to her biological mother, Crystal Renee Sorey, around Thanksgiving 2019.

“We know that is not true,’’ said Assistant Attorney General Jesse J. O’Neill in Hillsborough Superior Court Monday, where Kayla Montgomery was arraigned on a felony welfare fraud charge related to collecting governmental assistance payments meant for Harmony. “There is at least one individual who has told the Manchester Police Department they saw Harmony with [Kayla and Adam Montgomery] after that date.”

At the time, the couple and three children were using at least two vehicles for shelter: a dark-blue 2006 Audi A4 and a silver 2010 Chrysler Sebring with a “license plate askew.” Authorities released stock photos of the vehicle but stressed that “the actual condition of the cars in 2019 was worse than depicted in these photos.”

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Example of a silver 2010 Chrysler SebringHandout
Example of a dark blue 2006 Audi S4Handout

Harmony’s disappearance has sparked outrage and prompted reviews of how child welfare agencies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire handled her case. New Hampshire’s governor, Christopher T. Sununu, who last week issued a scathing critique of the Massachusetts court system, over the weekend denounced a Massachusetts judge for granting custody of Harmony to her father in February 2019 despite his violent criminal history.

In an interview with New Hampshire TV station WMUR, Sununu called the judge’s decision “baffling,” adding that Massachusetts officials should have waited for New Hampshire to conduct a home inspection before giving custody of the child to a troubled father.

“Why a judge would do that ... without allowing us to complete our home visit, without the normal checks and balances in place so we can do our follow-up, it really makes no sense,” Sununu said.

The judge who made the decision to place Harmony with her father in 2019 was Mark Newman, who at the time was first justice of the Essex Juvenile Court, according to two people with direct knowledge of Harmony’s case.

Newman, 72, was nominated to serve as a juvenile court judge in 2002 by former acting governor Jane Swift, and retired in August 2019 after reaching mandatory retirement age, records show. A former prosecutor in Suffolk County, he also practiced law in Needham before becoming a judge, State House News Service reported.

Newman has continued to work in the state court system since retiring, serving last year and in 2020 as a judge for cases on recall status, according to state records. He declined multiple times to speak with the Globe regarding Harmony’s case.

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But Monday’s revelations raise further questions about the actions of New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, which had contact on multiple occasions with the Montgomerys in the months before the family was evicted from its Gilford Street home.

During a Sept. 11, 2019 call to service at the Montgomery home — the last time police say they saw Harmony — an officer noted that the home was filled with “clutter in every room consisting of clothing and empty food containers” and that Adam Montgomery told police the house didn’t have electricity but that a portable generator in the driveway powered the refrigerator. A relative also told police that day that the family was set to be evicted at the end of the month.

Police noted in their report that they alerted New Hampshire’s child welfare agency of the situation, though it’s unclear whether DCYF followed up.

Jake Leon, a spokesman for New Hampshire DCYF, said in an e-mail Monday that the agency couldn’t discuss specific cases but said generally that “when DCYF staff conduct an assessment and find that a family has needs and the concerns do not rise to the level of child abuse or neglect, they connect families to local resources to meet their needs.”

A former DCYF caseworker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that in cases where a family’s eviction is imminent, a child welfare caseworker should ensure that parents have a plan to provide safe housing for their children following the eviction.

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“What due diligence did the caseworker do to ensure they had a place to go that was appropriate for the children, that met their needs, after they were evicted?” the former employee asked.

Despite the ongoing search for the missing girl — which has included Manchester police, the FBI, and the US Marshals Service — officials have provided few updates since Sorey alerted Manchester police to her child’s disappearance in November.

A multi-day search of the Gilford Street home this month found nothing new regarding her whereabouts, according to police. Last week, Sorey told the Globe she had met with authorities and allowed them to search her phone in an effort to prove that neither Adam or Kayla Montgomery had ever given her the child.

O’Neill said in court that Sorey has been “extremely cooperative” and “thoroughly investigated,” adding that “there is no evidence that Harmony was with her, no credible evidence, after or during 2019.”

A judge ordered Kayla Montgomery held on $5,000 bail but said she can be released on personal recognizance if she completes a rehab program.

Adam Montgomery, meanwhile, is jailed on charges of physically abusing Harmony in 2019, though no charges have been filed related to the girl’s disappearance. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Laura Crimaldi, Elizabeth Koh, and Jessica Rinaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.