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Child's Body Found in Merced; Hayward Woman Charged With Murder

MERCED (CBS SF) -- A 30-year-old Hayward woman, being held for child abuse in Santa Rita jail, was charged with murder along with her boyfriend Saturday hours after she led police to a Merced home where a child's body was discovered.

Samantha Johnson | Dhante Jackson
Samantha Johnson | Dhante Jackson

Merced police said Samantha Johnson now faces a murder charge along with her boyfriend, 34-year-old Dhante Jackson of Merced, who has Bay Area connections. He remains at large and is the focus of a statewide manhunt.

"Jackson resides at the home where the deceased child was found," police posted on Facebook. "Soon after news spread about Jackson's home being searched, he went on the run."

Meanwhile, the Merced County Coroner's Office was trying to determine if the child's body was that of Johnson's missing 8-year-old daughter, Sophia Mason.

Sophia Mason
Sophia Mason. (Family Photo via Hayward Police Dept)

Since Tuesday, Hayward police have been searching for Sophia. Johnson was arrested Thursday evening after giving investigators suspicious information regarding her daughter's whereabouts. She eventually gave Hayward police enough information to have them ask Merced police to check out a home on Barclay Way.

Once inside the home, detectives discovered the body.

"Detectives interviewed Johnson about the deceased child found in the residence that she led police to in the city of Merced," police posted on Facebook. "Johnson was ultimately arrested for the charge of murder and remains in custody at the Santa Rita Jail. Johnson will be transferred to the Merced County Jail."

Merced police were asking anyone with any information regarding this incident to contact Detective John Pinnegar at (209)388-7712 or by email at

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