CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a 5-year-old New Hampshire girl missing since 2019 is legally dead and her mother can become administrator of her estate, just weeks after the child’s father was convicted of killing her.

Crystal Sorey “has carried her burden to demonstrate” that her daughter, Harmony Montgomery, was killed “as a result of some catastrophic event” and that her body has not been found, a probate judge said in an order made public Tuesday, a day after Sorey went to court.

Sorey is taking the first steps in preparation of a planned wrongful death lawsuit against the state regarding Harmony Montgomery. Her lawyer told the judge that Adam Montgomery’s second-degree murder conviction, plus his admission of guilt to lesser charges that he moved his daughter’s body around for months afterward and falsified physical evidence, was enough to result in a legal death declaration.

The lawyer also said there was trial testimony from Adam Montgomery’s estranged wife, Kayla Montgomery, that “she had handled Harmony Montgomery’s lifeless body,” according to the judge’s decision.

Sorey’s lawyer still has to provide a copy of the jury’s verdict and a probate surety bond that would guarantee Sorey would fulfill her duties under the law as administrator.

Adam Montgomery and Sorey were not in a relationship when their daughter was born in 2014. Harmony Montgomery lived on and off with foster families and her mother until Sorey lost custody in 2018. Montgomery was awarded custody in early 2019, and Sorey testified she last saw her daughter during a FaceTime call around Easter of that year.

When they were later questioned about Harmony’s whereabouts, Adam and Kayla Montgomery told authorities that he had taken the child to live with Sorey.

Adam Montgomery, in prison awaiting sentencing, chose not to attend the probate hearing via Webex.

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