For years, Harmony Montgomery’s mother has been raising the alarm about her missing daughter. Few were listening.

Harmony Montgomery has been missing since late 2019. Crystal Renee Sorey

Through it all, Sorey pleaded, worried, and struggled, spending busy days battling her worst tendencies while trying to unravel the series of events that led to this point.

Her search, as she tells it, spanned three years, two states and a slew of government agencies — and was sometimes met with a bureaucratic indifference that the mother can only attribute to her complicated past that includes a history of drugs. addiction.

“I will always come to terms with the fact that I played my part in this,” she says now. “But I never gave up on her. I never just washed my hands. Ever.”

And so she passed, on this afternoon, through a metal detector in the courthouse and went to the juvenile clerk’s office, seeking details from a 2019 custody hearing that may explain a judge’s decision to place Harmony in the custody of her troubled father. Within minutes, however, it became clear she would be thwarted again, this time by a clerk who refused to hand over the documents and suggested she call her attorney. Later, her attorney said he was no longer involved in the case and she needed to get the court records.

For Sorey, who, like his daughter, grew up amid family chaos and went through every system imaginable — child welfare, social services, justice system — it was the latest indignity in a years-long effort to straighten up and find her daughter.

“I just can’t… sit by the phone and hope,” she says. “Not as a mother.”

The past few weeks have been a blur.

Guilt and anger consume her. Sleep comes sporadically. Although authorities have all but cleared her as a suspect in her daughter’s disappearance – an assistant prosecutor told the court last month that Sorey was thoroughly investigated by police – unfounded suspicions and personal attacks have persisted in some corners of the internet.

“As if I wasn’t already in pain,” she said. “Like I wasn’t already dying inside.”

During this time, the challenges and responsibilities of everyday life impose themselves. Twice a week, she attends group meetings to maintain her grip on sobriety; she has been sober, she says, for two and a half years. She is raising her one-year-old son her son on her own, cooking lunches and arranging trips to doctor’s appointments while wondering if the next phone call she will receive will be from the police, asking her to identify her daughter’s name body.

Crystal Sorey left the Department for Children and Families office in Haverhill after requesting Harmony’s documents.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“I still have to be a mom,” she said recently, from the modest central Massachusetts apartment she shares with her son, “and focus on my recovery and my function through it all.”

Long before his daughter’s disappearance made national news, Sorey sounded growing alarm bells about Harmony. The then 5-year-old girl was taken into the care of her father in 2019 and went to live with him in Manchester, NH

But within months, Sorey said, the father had cut off contact between Sorey and the daughter. In the spring of 2019, she had alerted the New Hampshire Child Protective Agency, she said. She later scoured the streets of Manchester herself in search of the girl and took to social media for help.

However, it wasn’t until late December – after Sorey sent a plea email to Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig – that authorities investigating Harmony’s whereabouts admitted a startling fact: no one had seen the girl for over two years.

Now, as the search for his daughter enters its second month – and officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire scramble to unravel the events that led to her disappearance – Sorey refuses to give up hope that his daughter is alive, while preparing for the possibility that she is not.

“I try so hard not to go into it in my head, but you also have to prepare for the worst,” she says. “So that you know how to go about it. So that you know how to cope.

Much like his daughter, Sorey’s early life was marked by tumult.

Her older brother, Tim Flanagan Jr., compares sibling upbringing to Haverhill to that of the fictional Showtime series “Shameless,” about a dysfunctional, impoverished family struggling to get by. As a young teenager, he often raised Sorey and his twin sister – toddlers at the time – as their parents moved back and forth in prison and in treatment programs, deeply addicted.

As Sorey grew up, his parents’ cycle became his own: drugs, arrests, courtrooms, treatment programs. Some of his siblings would struggle with addiction; she lost a brother to an overdose.

Flanagan, who now lives in Florida, is careful not to find excuses for the family. Still, he can’t help but believe that the turbulent upbringing contributed to his difficulties.

“[People] don’t understand it’s generational chaos,” he says. “How do you know how to handle this if you’ve never experienced it?”

Sorey met Adam Montgomery when he was 20, through a mutual friend in New Hampshire. The relationship, she says now, was volatile. Both used a lot of drugs. At the time she became pregnant with the couple’s child, she says, Montgomery was physically abusing her.

But the birth of her first child in 2014, Sorey says, changed something inside her. Here, at last, there was something to worry about, something to live for.

She named the girl Harmony, because it reminded her of music.

“Before I had it, I really had no reason to be clean,” she says now. “I hated myself and didn’t want to fight for myself. [Then] I gave birth to him and had someone to fight for.

The relationship did not last; Montgomery was in jail at the time of the birth of his daughter, and soon after, Sorey says, the two separated.

“I didn’t like him as a person anymore once I got sober,” she says.

Their daughter has become an adorable childish, sassy and precocious. The pigtailed, bespectacled little girl made a big impact at the sober living programs where she lived for two years with her mother.

“Harmony was a little spitter,” recalled a friend of Sorey’s, who lived with Sorey and his daughter in a sober house in Roxbury and asked not to be identified by name. “Very active, super fresh, very curious and inquisitive.”

But a relapse into addiction in 2018 cost Sorey custody of the girl, and the following year a juvenile court in Lawrence was set to decide Harmony’s placement.

At the time, Sorey says, she lobbied for the girl to stay with the Massachusetts adoptive mother she was living with, at least until Sorey could regain custody. Instead, a judge in February 2019 awarded custody of the girl to Montgomery – despite her lengthy criminal history which included convictions for armed robbery and for shooting a man in the face while smuggling drug. It’s unclear what part of his story was known to the judge, or what advice, if any, was given to the court by child protection officials.

“I made him a promise,” said the mother. “I promised mum would get better and I would stay better.”

Over the next three months, Sorey says she had three in-person visits with her daughter. But during a video call with Harmony shortly before Easter 2019, Sorey and Montgomery had a falling out. From that point on, she said, Montgomery cut off all contact.

In the months that followed, Sorey says, she tried unsuccessfully to reach the little girl. She called the New Hampshire Child Protective Agency, she says, only to be told she looked like a scorned ex. Later, while living in Lowell, she walked past schools in New Hampshire where she thought her daughter might have been enrolled and paid for online search tools to access addresses associated with Montgomery.

Last July, she posted a photo montage of Harmony on social media site TikTok, saying she would never stop looking for her daughter.

“Has she disappeared?” someone asked in response.

“She hasn’t quite disappeared,” Sorey replied. “Her dad has her and hasn’t let me see her or talk to her for two years!!! For no reason, just to hurt me.

Last November, not knowing where to turn, she called the police in Manchester, the last place where Harmony lived.

When authorities finally found Montgomery, nearly six weeks after Sorey’s call, they found him sleeping in a car with a girlfriend. He initially claimed he returned Harmony to Sorey around Thanksgiving in 2019. He later declined to discuss his daughter’s fate, police said.

Adam Montgomery, from Manchester, NH Associated press

“If I’m not under arrest,” he told officers, according to an affidavit, “I’m leaving.”

Authorities arrested him for a felony child abuse charge stemming from a 2019 incident involving Harmony. His ex-wife, Kayla Montgomery, was also arrested, tasked with raising government aid funds intended for Harmony while the girl was no longer in the couple’s custody.

Lawyers for Montgomery, who pleaded not guilty, did not respond to messages from The Globe.

No charges have yet been filed in the girl’s disappearance, and state officials, citing privacy laws, have said little about the process that brought Harmony into her father’s custody. Massachusetts and New Hampshire child protection officials also declined to discuss details of their involvement with Harmony, including Sorey’s attempts to locate the girl.

With little information to go on, Sorey busied herself with keeping her daughter’s case out of the public eye. She held a candlelight vigil last month in a park in Manchester. She recruited friends and family to hang posters all over town, turning to anyone to help her navigate this alien world.

“How do we get Harmony on billboards on I-93 North/South,” she asked in a text message to a Globe reporter.

Each day brings a barrage of new information to sort through. Not long ago someone told him they remembered seeing Adam Montgomery begging around Manchester, with Harmony on his lap. A psychic reached out, certain the girl was alive in Texas.

The nights are the hardest. She lies awake in her apartment – where an empty bed and a small collection of toys await her daughter – and thinks about the girl: what she does, if she has eaten that day. If she cries for her mother.

“I think of everything she might be going through,” Sorey says. “And that breaks me, really.”

Dugan Arnett can be contacted at [email protected]