A Texas girl who has been missing since July was found safe in a foreign country with her fugitive dad Saturday after US investigators finally tracked down the pair following a bitter custody dispute in which her father had refused to hand over his daughter to her maternal aunt.
The Collin County Sheriff’s Office was making arrangements to fly Sophie Long, 11, back to Texas on Saturday. Deputies declined to say which country she was in, though authorities previously said she and her dad could’ve been en route to Argentina or Mexico.
‘Many months of determined work by my deputies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Marshals paid off this morning,’ Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner said in a statement Saturday. ‘We are so happy Sophie is safe.’
Her father, Michael Long, will be extradited to the US to face a felony charge of interference with child custody, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Long said he didn’t want to return Sophie to her mother’s family in early July after the girl accused her mom’s fiancee of sexual abuse.
In a meeting with DailyMail.com in August, Sophie appeared happy to be with her father as she spoke about her grades at school and her favorite classes.
Sophie Long, 11, has been found safe in an undisclosed foreign country after her father Michael refused to turn her over to her maternal aunt, who has custody of her, back in July
Her father Michael will be extradited to the US and charged with felony interference with child custody
Sophie was at the center of a bitter custody dispute between her dad, mother Kelly Long, and her aunt, who she was sent to live with in May.
She was last seen on July 12 in Seguin, northeast of San Antonio, before being found.
Deputies say they won’t reveal more information until Sophie is back in the States.
Michael, 43, was due to show up at a court in McKinney, Texas, in August for a hearing over a motion that could send him to jail for almost three years.
But he told DailyMail.com, in an exclusive interview that took place the day before the warrant was issued, that the only way he will return to court and bring his daughter home is if he is allowed to put his case before a jury.
Ex-wife Kelly Long opposed the jury trial in a motion and asked for Long to be summarily jailed for 18 months plus an extra year on one count of hiding Sophie and another for failing to hand her over.
Kelly, 36, is also asking for Long to be placed on probation for 10 years and for him to be held on a $20,000 bond, as well as for him to cover her legal costs.
In a meeting with DailyMail.com in August, Michael said he was willing to go to jail to protect Sophie, who he says claims she was sexually abused by her mom’s fiancée
Michael was ordered in July to pay $20,000 to cover the cost of reunification therapy for Sophie and her mother, as well as therapy for her two brothers, his sons.
‘I’d absolutely go to jail to protect Sophie. I’d do anything for her. She’s a 10-year-old child,’ Michael told DailyMail.com.
‘She shouldn’t have to be dealing with this stuff. These high conflict custody cases – this wasn’t about getting into a custody case. This was about getting justice for my daughter.
‘It turned into that because the system didn’t take action as they promised they would. People like to say this is a vendetta against my ex. No, it’s not.
‘This is about a little girl who made an outcry and has a diagnosis and has not gotten justice. There’s no way I’m going to turn my back on her now.’
Sophie’s story shot to prominence in August 2020 after a video showing her screaming and crying during a custody handover went viral.
Kelly Long, 36, filed a motion demanding Long to be summarily jailed for 18 months for taking their daughter
Sophie desperately clung to the seats of her father Michael’s car and accused her mom’s fiancée, who the children call Mr. Jake, of sexual abuse, prompting a #StandWithSophie campaign on social media.
The video was partly spread by QAnon believers who thought she was in danger, according to the Dallas Morning News, and police at that time dismissed the ‘patently false’ information that was being shared about her and other children.
According to her father, Sophie claimed she was sexually abused by her mother’s fiancée Jacob Bellington and was diagnosed with a vaginal infection after being taken to the hospital last summer.
She was also interviewed by a specialist nurse with her father outside the room and repeated the claims to her, according to records seen by DailyMail.com.
Following her claims, the Frisco Police Department in Texas opened an investigation into the case, while Michael was awarded temporary custody of Sophie and her two brothers.
But he says the story took a darker turn following a hearing in December when the court-appointed guardian-ad-litem and amicus attorney argued that both boys should be returned to their mother after they began exhibiting behavioral problems.
Michael Long sparked a manhunt after he failed to turn Sophie in to her aunt in July. Authorities at the time said the pair may have been en route to Argentina or Mexico
Michael Long says he wasn’t allowed to testify during a hearing in May, but his estranged wife Kourtney Chalmers (pictured) was called to the stand
Michael Long spoke to DailyMail.com in August after going on the run with daughter Sophie in July. The Texas dad took off with the ten-year-old on after he was ordered to hand her over to her maternal aunt
He says both have since been exposed to Bellington and that no arrangements for visitation with him have been put in place since the original order expired in April.
Bellington has denied the allegations, accusing Long of ‘jealousy’ and ‘ripping’ his family apart.
Attorneys for Kelly Long also claimed last year that the ‘unfounded’ claims were part of Michael’s ‘personal vendetta against his ex-wife.’
Frisco PD would later release a statement in late August confirming Sophie was ‘safe and staying at a safe location.’
Long says that since the end of April, he has been allowed a handful of FaceTime calls with his sons but said that even these have now petered out.
Sophie, meanwhile, was ordered to be sent to live with her maternal aunt following a hearing in May during which he says he was not allowed to testify, while his estranged wife Kourtney Chalmers – who Long believes is working with ex-wife Kelly – was called to the stand.
When the order for her removal was finally handed down in July, he says he felt ‘numb’ but quickly decided he needed to get out of town to ‘buy time’.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘I sat there, everybody started scrambling in the background trying to find her and pick her up. And I thought through it. This is a civil matter.
‘This isn’t a criminal matter, it isn’t oh, he’s going to jail if we find him kind of thing. It’s a time period. And I knew the only thing to do next was to file an appeal and to do it quickly.
‘But you need time to do that. Within days of the hearing, there’s a missing poster floating about. No, she’s with me and we’re laying low until the next step.
Sophie appeared happy and at ease with her father when the pair were interviewed in August. Above, a younger Sophie
Sophie was the subject of a social media campaign dubbed #StandWithSophie after a video of her custody handover went viral. It showed her holding on to the seats of her dad’s car and accusing her mom’s fiancée of abuse
‘That was a motion to stay and a writ of mandamus that was denied. Between that denial and now, they called for a court hearing on August 4 where they wanted to put down an order on the motion decided on July 7.
‘But they also want to put me in jail for two and a half years and they want to put me on probation for 10 years.
‘All through this situation, I’m just a father trying to protect my child – that’s all there is to it. At the end of the day, I will do anything I can to make sure Sophie gets justice.
‘This is my little girl. What would any other parent do in this situation? Especially when the documentation I have proves what happened.’
Michael said Sophie was doing well and achieved top marks in her end of year results in a meeting with DailyMail.com in August
Michael claimed he had not abducted his daughter and took off because he was fearful of what would happen to Sophie if she was returned to her mom’s family.
Sophie, he said, was doing well and achieved top marks in her end of year results.
He said: ‘She’s awesome. Sophie’s brave. She’s really into architecture at the moment so she’s been spending some time learning about those principles. Swimming.’
He added: ‘We are blessed to have wonderful friends in this world, people who are willing to give us a soft place to land.
‘So, we’re comfortable, she’s happy. It’s summer. I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible in her life. I don’t want her to feel the stress I go through.
‘At the end of the day, this is about her. It’s about my boys too but I can only deal with what I have control over and at this point, it’s my daughter and making sure she has her voice heard.’
Until recently, Michael had been ‘laying low’ with Sophie since July 7 after he was told to hand her to her aunt in North Carolina and banned from speaking to his daughter for 90 days.
He brought Sophie to a meeting with DailyMail.com which took place at a neutral location in August.
The 10-year-old appeared happy and at ease with her father, and was keen to tell DailyMail.com about the A grades she received at school and her favorite classes, including English and art.