Merced police looking for homicide suspect after child found dead in home

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) – Merced police are asking for the public’s help to find a man, a day after a child was found dead inside his home on Friday.

Authorities have not yet identified the child, but they were led to the gruesome discovery after interrogating the mother of a missing 8-year-old girl, Sophia Mason.

RELATED: Merced police searching for 8-year-old girl who went missing last month

We do not yet know if the child found dead is Sophia.

The mother, 30-year-old Samantha Johnson, is in jail in Alameda County after being arrested by Hayward police for a warrant stemming from a child abuse incident that took place in 2021.

She is also facing a charge of murder and will be transferred to the Merced County Jail.

Now, Merced police are looking for 34-year-old Dhante Jackson, Johnson’s boyfriend. They say he lives at the home where the child’s body was found on Friday.

RELATED: Child’s body found in Merced home, police say
Merced police say soon after news spread about Jackson’s home being searched, he went on the run. He is now wanted for murder.

He is known to frequent California’s Bay Area, police say.

The Merced County Coroner’s Office is working to positively identify the child found dead.

Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact Detective John Pinnegar at (209)388-7712 or by email at

On Saturday, a memorial outside the house in Merced grew, with people adding stuffed animals and bright balloons.

Neighbors told Action News they rarely saw Johnson, Jackson, or 8-year-old Sophia.

Now they’re coming together to pay tribute to the child found dead, and pray for justice.

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