The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered a review of the case of 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery, the missing New Hampshire girl who was last seen in late 2019, months after a Massachusetts juvenile court judge awarded custody of the child to her troubled father.
SJC Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd disclosed the review in a letter last week to New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, according to documents released to the Globe on Thursday. Sununu had sent a scathing letter to Budd on Jan. 18, questioning how the Massachusetts judicial system could place the child in the custody of her father, whom he described as a “monstrous drug dealer.”
Harmony entered the child welfare system while she was living in Massachusetts with her mother, who lost custody of her in 2018. Massachusetts officials haven’t said who was caring for the child when a judge granted custody to her father, Adam Montgomery, a New Hampshire resident, in February 2019.
Sununu suggested the Massachusetts court system acted impulsively at that time, putting the child in danger by placing her with Montgomery, who previously had been convicted in an armed attack on two women, as well as with shooting a man in the face in a botched drug deal months before Harmony’s birth. Montgomery is now jailed in Manchester on abuse charges, but police say he has refused to answer questions about her whereabouts.
In her letter, Budd called the case “heartbreaking.”
“I share your view that we need to learn as much as we can about what happened,” she wrote to Sununu’s office, which released the letter Thursday in response to a Globe records request.
The SJC, Budd wrote, directed Judge Jeffrey A. Locke, chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court, to review Harmony’s case, though details on the scope of the review were not disclosed.
The court system is also cooperating with a review of the case led by the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, Budd said in her letter.
“I know we both want to do all we can to protect the safety and wellbeing of children in our systems,” Budd wrote.
In the weeks since New Hampshire authorities announced the child’s disappearance — a full two years after she was reportedly last seen — Massachusetts officials have repeatedly declined to discuss how the Department of Children and Families and juvenile court system handled her case, citing privacy laws.
On Thursday, Sununu said finding Harmony “remains everyone’s top priority and will take an all-hands-on-deck effort.”
“I appreciate the Court’s willingness to join us in reviewing this very serious issue,” he said in a statement.
The child had bounced in and out of Massachusetts’ child welfare system. She was placed in the custody of her father in February 2019 by Mark Newman, who at the time was first justice of the Essex Juvenile Court, according to two people with direct knowledge of her case. The proceeding was confidential, and the Massachusetts judicial system has repeatedly declined to release details about the hearing, citing privacy laws.
Newman, 72, has declined numerous requests from the Globe to discuss Harmony’s case. He retired from the bench in 2019, records show, but has continued to hear cases in Massachusetts on recall status.
Sununu has previously said that the judge awarded custody before New Hampshire officials had finished evaluating Montgomery’s suitability to care for the child. Sununu also criticized Massachusetts for not requiring child welfare workers to monitor how she was faring in her father’s care.
Speaking during a regular appearance Thursday morning on GBH radio, Governor Charlie Baker defended the privacy laws that authorities say prevent the disclosure of details about the case.
“The privacy rules are there for the kids and the parents and they’re federal,” Baker said.
The Office of the Child Advocate, he added, will develop a plan to release “relevant” elements of its review to the public. The child advocate’s office is an independent agency tasked with acting as a watchdog of state services for children.
Like Sununu, Baker said he would also like to know why interstate monitoring procedures weren’t enacted in Harmony’s case.
On Monday, authorities in New Hampshire narrowed the timing of her disappearance in 2019 to a two-week period from Nov. 28 to Dec. 10— roughly 10 months after Adam Montgomery was awarded custody. Officials also released additional details, such as news that Harmony’s family was evicted from their home on Gilford Street in Manchester on Nov. 27, 2019.
Following the eviction, Montgomery, 32, and his wife, Kayla, began sheltering in two vehicles that they may have parked in the North End of Manchester, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella’s office. Authorities released stock photos of the vehicles they were using: a dark-blue 2006 Audi A4 and a silver 2010 Chrysler Sebring with a “license plate askew.”
Several people reported seeing the couple living in the cars with their two children, as well as then-5-year-old Harmony, officials said. Later, witnesses said there were just two children.
The new timeline conflicts with the account Montgomery allegedly gave to law enforcement late last year. According to police, Montgomery said he last saw his daughter around Thanksgiving 2019 when he gave her to her biological mother, Crystal Renee Sorey. Sorey has said she last saw the child on a video call at about Easter 2019.
In November, Sorey alerted New Hampshire authorities that she hadn’t seen her daughter in years.
Manchester police arrested Montgomery on Jan. 4 and charged him with physically abusing Harmony in 2019. He has pleaded not guilty. No charges have been filed related to her disappearance.
Kayla Montgomery faces a felony welfare fraud charge for allegedly collecting governmental assistance payments meant for Harmony.
Adam and Kayla Montgomery share three children, including an infant.
Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed.