Sophia Mason's family: 'This could have been totally avoided'

Family of Sophia Mason is speaking out after police announced the discovery of a child's body in Merced Friday.

The body is believed to be Sophia Mason, who has been missing since December. Mason's mother, Samantha Johnson was arrested Saturday on suspicion of murder, and a warrant was issued for arrest of her boyfriend, Dhante Jackson.

"This could have been totally avoided," said cousin Melanie Verlatti. She said there were signs of trouble for years.

"We knew and had reported to cops and police officers multiple times over the past several years that when Sophia was in custody with her mom she was in danger," said Verlatti. "That something could happen. And nothing was ever done. She kind of fell through the cracks of the system."

Sophia Mason. Photo credit: Melanie Verlatti

Sophia Mason. Photo credit: Melanie Verlatti

Verlatti said Johnson had a pattern of coming in and out of her daughter’s life, and would take her out of school and move her around to different hotels. 

"Her life with her mom wasn’t a good one," said Verlatti. "Her life with her grandmother, my aunt however was really good. She was happy, she was loving she was joyful. She loved going to school, being a little kid." 

Verlatti said Sophia’s Aunt and Grandmother would have happily raised her. Now family members are trying to piece together what happened. 

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Investigators don’t yet know whether the body found in the boyfriend's home is Sophia’s, but police said they hope to make an identification soon. 

Jackson, 34, is believed to be on the run after hearing that his home was being searched by police. He is reportedly known to frequent the Bay Area and police are asking for assistance in locating him.

The child's mother will be held in the Merced County Jail, since that county is where the child's body was found.

Sophia Mason as a baby. Photo credit: Melanie Verlatti

Verlatti said the last time they saw Sophia was around the holidays. The little girl did manage to call her aunt about 2 weeks before she was reported missing. 

"My Aunt received a phone call from Sophia, and she said, ‘Sophia, where are you?’ Because she hadn’t seen her, she has been missing. And she said, ‘I’m with my daddy, I’m at the house with my daddy.’"

It's unclear how long the body was in the boyfriend's home before it was discovered.

This is an ongoing investigation. Merced Police are asking anyone with any information to contact Detective John Pinnegar at (209)388-7712.