He was born to troubled teenage parents and had a personal and family history of incarceration and abuse. Arrests for violent crimes.
That was the past that shadowed Adam Montgomery in 2014 when he inquired — from prison — about meeting his infant daughter, Harmony, who was in the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.
The problem, according to a damning report released in May by the state’s child advocate, was that Montgomery refused to divulge details of his violent history, and no one at DCF fully investigated his background while the agency oversaw Harmony’s care. Five years after DCF began caring for Harmony, in 2019, Montgomery persuaded a Massachusetts juvenile court judge to grant him custody of the girl.
The consequences of these decisions were fully exposed last Monday when New Hampshire prosecutors announced that the 32-year-old Montgomery killed Harmony, then 5, by repeatedly punching her in the head in Manchester on Dec. 7, 2019. The announcement confirmed what many had feared since police announced last New Year’s Eve that Harmony was missing and hadn’t been seen in two years.
Because DCF didn’t fully assess Montgomery’s background, the agency missed a chance to uncover evidence it could have offered in court to bolster its arguments against granting him custody, Maria Mossaides, director of the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate and author of the report, said Tuesday.
On Thursday, DCF blamed Montgomery for not complying with the agency’s requirement for parents to provide information about themselves and their families.
But the Globe learned through interviews, court records, and police reports that DCF did not need Montgomery’s cooperation to piece together aspects of his personal history because many details had been recorded in public documents used in custody proceedings and criminal prosecutions involving him and his family members.
“He has a black soul,” said a woman who lived near Montgomery in Bedford, N.H., when they were both teenagers. In 2007, when Montgomery was 17 and the woman was 15, Montgomery was prosecuted for menacing her with a knife and pleaded guilty in the case, according to New Hampshire court records.
Even as a teenager, Montgomery was threatening, she said, carrying himself with gritted teeth, clenched fists, and a puffed-out chest and speaking in monotone.
Montgomery, who was previously charged with striking Harmony in July 2019, now faces second-degree murder and other charges in Harmony’s death. Her body hasn’t been found. On Tuesday, Montgomery waived his arraignment and pleaded not guilty, court records show. His defense lawyers didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment.
Earlier this month, prosecutors filed court papers that show Montgomery’s estranged wife, Kayla, told investigators in June that Montgomery killed Harmony and then encouraged her to lie about the girl’s whereabouts. Kayla Montgomery was Harmony’s stepmother. The girl was reported missing to authorities last November by her mother, Crystal Sorey, 32, who lost custody of Harmony in 2018 because of substance use and told authorities she last saw her on a video call at about Easter 2019, a short time after the girl began living with Montgomery in New Hampshire. .
When police in New Hampshire questioned Montgomery about Harmony last December, he said he last saw his daughter around Thanksgiving 2019, saying that he gave her to Sorey. His claim is false, prosecutors have said.
Harmony was born in 2014, while Montgomery was incarcerated and awaiting trial on charges that he shot a man in the head during a drug deal in Haverhill. And long before that, his life was marked by rage, substance abuse, and abandonment, raising questions over why DCF didn’t delve deeper into his history when considering whether he was fit to care for Harmony.
If they had, they would have found that his father began a long prison term when Montgomery was 5, that he pleaded guilty in Massachusetts to charges brought in a shooting and armed robbery, and that he struggled with drugs.
In cases where the government intervenes in the care of a child, the parents’ background alone — including criminal records and upbringing — cannot disqualify them from their constitutionally- protected right to raise their children.
But lawyers can bring up the issues in custody proceedings to argue that the caregivers’ past is linked to current concerns about their fitness to care for a child, Mossaides’s report said.
At the hearing where Montgomery got custody of Harmony, DCF had the burden of proving by “clear and convincing evidence” that Montgomery was unfit to care for the girl.
But DCF workers “had no understanding” of his “family or personal history with which to develop an action plan and from which they could assess his capacity to parent Harmony,” Mossaides said.
Appearing before Juvenile Court Judge Mark Newman in February 2019, Montgomery presented himself as a man who had changed his ways. Newman, in turn, didn’t order an assessment of his suitability to care for the girl, as mandated by DCF regulations and Massachusetts court decisions, the Massachusetts child advocate’s report said. He awarded custody of Harmony to Montgomery.
“The Juvenile Court felt that DCF’s case was weak because there was little evidence of current unfitness in the face of Mr. Montgomery’s apparent rehabilitation,” Mossaides said. On Friday, Newman declined to comment through a court spokeswoman.
Margo Lindauer, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law who has represented parents involved in the child welfare system, said DCF’s omission “seems like an obvious lapse.”
“It’s shocking because in my experience DCF does and can remove children for much less,” she said.
On Friday, Sorey, Harmony’s mother, said her daughter talked about not being comfortable calling Montgomery “daddy.”
“I want to call him his name because I don’t know him as daddy,” she quoted Harmony as saying.
In response to written questions from the Globe, DCF on Thursday said Montgomery didn’t cooperate with the agency’s efforts to research his background and highlighted a part of the child advocate’s report that described his lack of cooperation. Still, many details about his background were documented in public records that didn’t require Montgomery’s authorization to access.
The agency added that there are limits on the records it can consult, saying federal law blocks DCF from receiving some records from other states, including sealed juvenile criminal arrest records and child welfare records. Out-of-state criminal background checks are only permitted, DCF said, if the parent is suspected of abuse or neglect, under investigation, or applying or serving as a foster parent.
A Globe review found that Montgomery’s upbringing was scarred by drug use and violence. He was born in 1990 to a pair of troubled teenagers. His father, Michael, was 16 and his mother was 15, records show. Outside her house in Lynn earlier this year, Montgomery’s mother told the Globe that Montgomery was supposed to be offered for adoption as a baby and she never had a relationship with him. Court records show he was placed in the custody of his father’s family.
“I don’t even know those people,” she said.
In 1995, when Montgomery was 5, his father was prosecuted for robbing a McDonald’s restaurant in Revere while wielding a toy gun and wearing a mask. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six to nine years in prison, according to Suffolk Superior Court records.
Montgomery’s paternal grandparents were left to raise him and his 3-year-old brother at their home in Revere.
Michael C. Montgomery wrote in court papers that he committed the robbery “out of desperation to obtain more heroin.”
“To this day I regret having fallen into this drug addict lifestyle, which, I know now, could have only ended in harm to myself, my family, and the community in general,” he wrote in a court filing in 1999 while he was at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in Central Massachusetts. Reached by phone Wednesday, Michael Montgomery, 48, declined to comment.
In 2002, Montgomery’s grandmother, Helen, who was caring for Adam and his brother, had been widowed for about five years and headed to Bedford, N.H., where she purchased a three-bedroom Colonial.
Neighbors said the Montgomery home was a hive of activity where Helen Montgomery lived with several male family members who trashed the house and yelled at her. In 2007, while police were investigating reports that Adam Montgomery threatened a neighbor with landscaping shears and then pushed his grandmother when she tried to calm him, Helen Montgomery said she didn’t see anything.
“This Police Department has been called by neighbors to this residence within the recent past involving family fights outside,” Bedford police wrote in a report. “We have received numerous reports of minor assaults on Helen from the various males living with [her] and upon investigating these allegations, she has remained uncooperative and denies them.”
The Globe couldn’t locate a working telephone number for Helen Montgomery, and she didn’t respond earlier this year to a request for comment mailed to her residence.
“I think at times she was even scared,” said Robert Reynolds, a neighbor in Bedford whose family member was confronted by Adam Montgomery in 2007.
On one occasion, Reynolds said, he repaired Helen Montgomery’s front door after Adam Montgomery kicked it in.
“I felt bad,” he said.
“They were a troubled family and you could tell,” Neal Forrest, who lives nearby, said earlier this year.
In June 2004, Michael Montgomery was granted custody of Adam Montgomery, who was then 14. They moved to Clearwater, Fla., police records show, and Montgomery enrolled in high school. In mid-September of that year, he stole his uncle’s BMW, crashed it, and ran away from home, a police report said.
The following year, Montgomery ran away again, according to Florida police records.
Eventually, he moved back to New Hampshire and his life continued to spiral.
In July 2007, troopers in the Massachusetts State Police gang unit encountered Montgomery and his uncle, Kevin, then 29, sharing a bathroom stall in a McDonald’s restaurant in Chelsea. Kevin Montgomery had “track marks” on his arms, and Montgomery, then 17, had a knife and heroin in his pocket and a teardrop tattooed under his left eye, a symbol associated with gang and prison culture, a police report said.
State Police charged Montgomery with heroin possession and violating a city ordinance for carrying a knife, but he successfully fought the charges, court records show. On Tuesday Kevin Montgomery, now 44, declined to comment.
The trouble continued. In 2008, Montgomery was identified as a suspect in the murder of Darlin Guzman, 28, who was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Lynn convenience store on Feb. 10 of that year, a law enforcement official told the Globe. No arrests have been made.
Four days after Guzman was killed, Montgomery was accused of — and later pleaded guilty to — breaking into a Malden apartment with another man and demanding money from three women while wielding a pellet gun. A few months after that, he was arrested for stabbing another man in the leg in Manchester, N.H., and eventually pleaded guilty to the crime, records show.
In an interview Friday, Sorey said Montgomery is manipulative and misogynistic and sought to cultivate a tough-guy image. She said she became concerned when she learned they were having a girl because of how he viewed women.
“Adam has a severe hatred of women,” she said.
Sorey, who is now sober, said she would like to remove Montgomery as Harmony’s last name and have her be known as Harmony Renee Sorey. If the girl’s body is found, she said, she plans to cremate her.
“I want her to be here with us where she belonged all along,” Sorey said.
Dugan Arnett of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.