Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker responded Wednesday to criticism from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu of a Massachusetts judge's decision to place Harmony Montgomery with her father and stepmother before New Hampshire officials could complete a study of their home.
"We are cooperating to the fullest extent that we can with the Office of the Child Advocate here in Massachusetts, which is an independent entity," Baker said when asked about the case during a press conference. "We're as interested in knowing the answer to that as everybody else is."
Sununu harshly criticized a Massachusetts court on Tuesday for placing Harmony, missing since 2019, with her father and stepmother.
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In a letter to the chief justice of Massachusetts’ highest court, he described the father Adam Montgomery as a “monster.” Adam Montgomery has a criminal record that goes back to least 2007 in both states. In Massachusetts, he was previously convicted of shooting someone in the head and a separate armed attack on two women, Sununu wrote.
Sununu asked why the Massachusetts courts went ahead and placed Harmony with him. The governor said that at the time the court ruled, New Hampshire’s child protection agency had asked Massachusetts for additional information to complete the home study and would have likely found the father unfit.
“It is unclear why the Massachusetts courts moved so quickly with this permanent placement prior to the completion of the home study. Why would the Massachusetts court choose to place custody of Harmony with this horrible individual? What caused such a fateful decision?” Sununu wrote.
Sununu is requesting the court review the decision and all events leading to the judge’s ruling.
“No child should ever leave Massachusetts in the custody of a dangerous criminal like Adam Montgomery,” Sununu wrote. “We must ensure that, moving forward, at-risk children of our states are protected and adequately monitored.”
Massachusetts Court System Spokesperson Jennifer Donahue said Budd received the letter from Sununu Tuesday afternoon and that the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate has opened an investigation “into this tragic situation.” The Massachusetts Trial Court, she added, was cooperating fully with that investigation.
In a statement, the Child Advocate, Maria Mossaides, said this about the status of the case:
"The OCA is continuing an administrative review of electronic and physical records in the Harmony Montgomery case and is exploring questions as they arise during this process," Mossaides said in the statement. "We are grateful for the cooperation we have received from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and the Massachusetts Juvenile Court. We continue to hope for Harmony’s safe return.”
Baker said Wednesday that he wants to wait for the Office of the Child Advocate to finish its review before commenting further.
"They're there for a reason, they're there for a purpose," he said.
But Baker said he also understands some of the anger and frustration that Sununu expressed in his letter.
"I felt his pain in that letter, I did," he said. "And like everyone else, I feel a tremendous amount of pain over what happened to Harmony."
Sununu said at a press conference Wednesday that he's not blaming Baker, who shares his outrage at the way Harmony's case was handled.
"We all have to get on the same page," he said. "It isn't about blaming one system."
Sununu continued, "I’m angry at the system, I’m angry that someone would put that child in the care of that individual, knowing that he is a monstrous individual. I’m angry that the system didn’t have the right checks and balances in it. I’m angry the states weren’t working together as they should’ve been with a compact that should’ve been in place. All of those pieces, we are all angry at.”
While an independent review of Harmony’s case gets underway in Massachusetts, NBC10 Boston asked Sununu if he thinks New Hampshire authorities are to blame. Court documents show Manchester police responded to Harmony’s last known address more than a dozen times in the months prior to her disappearance in 2019.
“Clearly, the system failed at certain area, right,” said Sununu. “And that’s our job is to look internally and to work with the state of Massachusetts and find out where it fell down.”
Harmony was last seen at a Manchester home in October 2019, when she was 5. Manchester police were notified last December that the child had not been seen in two years.
Since then, police have searched the house where she was last seen. Harmony Montgomery’s father and stepmother have been arrested on charges related to her well-being.
Adam Montgomery was arrested on a second-degree assault charge earlier this month, as well as charges of interfering with custody and child endangerment. Police accused him of “purposely violating a duty of care, protection or support” by failing to know where the girl has been since late 2019 — the last reported sighting.
Adam Montgomery, 31, had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf by his lawyer. He has been jailed without bail.
Prosecutors dropped a welfare fraud charge last week against Harmony Montgomery’s stepmother, Kayla Montgomery, for collecting food stamps in the child’s name. The charge was replaced with three other charges, including theft.
Kayla Montgomery was charged on suspicion of obtaining $1,500 in food stamps from December 2019 to June 2021 for Harmony Montgomery, even though the girl was not living with the couple. She pleaded not guilty.
Police have received hundreds of the tips in the case and the reward fund has grown to more than $144,000. Anyone with information can call the 24-hour tip line at (603) 203-6060.
"Hopefully we still have time to bring Harmony home safe and make sure if there were any failures of our system we address them so families know we're going to do everything we can to keep this from happening again," Sununu said. "We're just focused on bringing Harmony home safe at this point."