Internal state review ordered in Harmony case

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Jan. 13—CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu has asked state child protection officials to conduct an internal review of the case of Harmony Montgomery, the 7-year-old Manchester girl who has been missing since 2019.

But during a news conference Wednesday, Sununu said that based on his knowledge, the staff at the state Division of Child, Youth and Families did an admirable job, first reporting to Manchester police nearly two months ago that Harmony was unaccounted for.

"I have instructed DCYF already to do a thorough process. Was there any point where information wasn't being transmitted or hit a roadblock?" Sununu told reporters.

"Right now, I feel very confident DCYF has done a good job of staying on top of the case and transmitting the information."

Sununu said in the past he has requested such internal inquiries in other high-profile cases, which have taken some time for authorities to complete.

"We are turning over any stone to find Harmony alive. That remains our fervent hope," Sununu said.

On Monday, state and federal law enforcement officials wrapped up several days of searching the former West Side house and surrounding property where Harmony Montgomery was last known to be living before her disappearance.

Her father, Adam Montgomery, was arrested and accused of hitting her and giving her a black eye years ago.

Manchester police also arrested Kayla Montgomery, Adam's estranged wife, and filed multiple charges against her for collecting welfare in Harmony's name during the time the child had gone missing.

Adam Montgomery had legal custody of Harmony since Feb. 22, 2019, after she was in foster care in Massachusetts. Adam and Kayla Montgomery are estranged but still married. They have three children together.

Kayla Montgomery told authorities at some point Harmony was sent to live with her mother, Crystal Sorey, in Massachusetts. Sorey denied that ever happened.

"These transient families do create a lot of volatility, but that's not an excuse for not getting to the bottom of this, and we will," Sununu said.

Council frustration

Earlier Wednesday, Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said he was frustrated after failing to get state officials to comment about the state's oversight role in the Montgomery case.

Gatsas noted this is the second missing child case in recent months to get national attention, coming after the tragic story of Elijah Lewis, 5, of Merrimack, whose dead body was found in a park in Abington, Mass., in October.

"We are starting to get a black eye for what is happening to the children in our state," Gatsas said.

Attorney General John Formella, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette and DCYF Director Joe Ribsam presented a united front in insisting state confidentiality laws prevent them from commenting about Harmony's case.

"There are a lot of rumors that go around because DCYF and HHS can't talk about these cases," Shibinette said.

During a press conference Wednesday, Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg said he was extremely confident about the work his agency has done up to and after Dec. 27, when they launched an investigation into Harmony's whereabouts.

He said he would not point a finger at any other agency.

"I don't think it's going to do any good. I'm standing in front of you, OK? I'm the one answering questions. If that doesn't paint the picture...." He paused. "I'm going to leave it at that."

Shibinette alluded to the challenge the state often has trying to keep track of at-risk children.

"It becomes difficult to track families that locate in different places. That plays a role," Shibinette said. "It is really about locating a family that relocates on a regular basis."

Interstate agreements

Formella noted the state has been fully transparent about its criminal investigation of the family and will continue to be.

"The authorities are constrained by what they can say and there are really good reasons for that," Formella said.

"There will be a time and a place to discuss some of the issues you are raising."

Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, noted that in a 2020 annual report, Child Advocate Moira O'Neill urged DCYF to reach compacts with counterpart agencies from neighboring states so they could easily share information about at-risk children who move across state lines.

O'Neill announced in November that she would be stepping down from her post as soon as her replacement is named.

DCYF Director Ribsam said the recommendation is a good one, but it's difficult to achieve these agreements, in part because states have differing legal definitions about what constitutes child neglect.

"There are a lot of complexities with it," Ribsam said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

Reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.

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