SEVERE WX : Special Weather Statement View Alerts

The troubling past of a family whose car plunged off a cliff

We may never know why Jennifer and Sarah Hart's SUV plummeted 100 feet over a cliff, killing the couple and three tee...

Posted: Apr 3, 2018 2:20 PM
Updated: Apr 3, 2018 2:20 PM

We may never know why Jennifer and Sarah Hart's SUV plummeted 100 feet over a cliff, killing the couple and three teens. Or whether their three other children are dead or alive.

But new details about the mysterious family reveal a troubled history. Here's what we know about the couple and their six children:

All 6 children were adopted

Three of the children were adopted in Texas in 2006 -- siblings Abigail, Hannah and Markis, said Tiffani Butler of the state's Department of Family and Protective Services.

Then another trio of siblings were adopted in 2009 -- Sierra, Jeremiah and Devonte, Butler said.

It's unclear whether one or both of the Hart women adopted the kids.

In 2014, Devonte garnered national attention when he embraced a white police officer during racially charged protests.

The nationwide protests followed a grand jury's decision not to indict the white officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

Devonte helped quell tensions with his sign offering "Free Hugs," and his photo was shared around the world.

3 children remain missing

Nearly four years after that iconic photo, Devonte and two of his siblings are nowhere to be found.

After the family's SUV crashed on the Northern California coast, the bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found inside March 26. The bodies of Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14, and Abigail, also 14, were found nearby.

But there was no trace of Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12. Those children may have been left behind with friends, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. Or they may have been killed when the SUV tumbled into the sea.

There were no skid marks

Perhaps the most troubling clue is what investigators didn't find.

There were no skid marks or brake marks in the area leading up to the fatal crash.

And there were no witnesses to help guide police on what happened. The SUV was discovered only after a passer-by saw the mangled wreckage below the cliff.

Data from the vehicle's software air bag module and software suggest the car had stopped at the scenic highway outcrop overlooking the cliff and then accelerated off the road, said Greg Baarts of the California Highway Patrol's Northern Division.

And that leads police to believe the crash may have been intentional.

"At this point in our investigation, that is the direction we are going," Baarts said.

Bruises discovered

Jennifer and Sarah Hart once lived in Minnesota, where Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault involving one of the children in 2010, according to Douglas County court records.

That child had told an elementary school teacher of pain in her stomach and back, and bruises were discovered.

Sarah Hart told police she had spanked the child over the edge of the bathtub because of the child's behavior. She was sentenced to community service and one year of probation.

Then, about 10 months ago, the Harts moved into their home in Woodland, Washington, neighbor Bruce DeKalb said. He said the family was "very private."

Another neighbor, Bill Groener, said the children were home-schooled and kept inside most of the time.

Pleas for help

DeKalb said Devonte and one of his sisters had told him they were being mistreated. The neighbor recalled two disturbing encounters he had with the children.

"One of the girls came to the door at 1:30 in the morning and said that she needed help and the parents were not treating her properly, and (she) wanted us to protect her," DeKalb said.

"We ended up getting her back to her parents ... and then I went over there the next morning and just checked on things, and everything seemed normal, and we let it go from there."

DeKalb said Devonte was the only child he saw doing chores outside, such as taking the garbage bins to and from the street.

Then, starting about two weeks ago, Devonte "started coming over asking for food and saying that they were taking meals away from him due to punishment," DeKalb told HLN.

"It started out as one time a day and escalated up to three times a day, until a week went by and we decided that we needed to get professional help."

DeKalb said he called Child Protective Services on March 23, and officials arrived just after Jennifer Hart came home from work. But she didn't answer the door.

Sarah Hart came home soon after, DeKalb said. By the next morning, the family and their vehicle were gone.

Child Protective Services tried to visit the family twice more, on March 26 and 27, but couldn't make contact, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said.

The department said it had no prior history with the Hart family. But the search continues for the three missing children.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 592750

Reported Deaths: 7376
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1226641731
Ramsey51369875
Dakota45906452
Anoka41713438
Washington26899283
Stearns22238222
St. Louis17758304
Scott17275124
Wright16034140
Olmsted1324298
Sherburne1170887
Carver1049145
Clay815792
Rice8056107
Blue Earth750441
Crow Wing665089
Kandiyohi655783
Chisago599751
Otter Tail574978
Benton570297
Goodhue478072
Douglas467875
Mower465732
Winona454550
Itasca437556
McLeod423659
Isanti421364
Morrison419260
Nobles407748
Beltrami395559
Steele388315
Polk384168
Becker380253
Lyon360651
Carlton345254
Freeborn341729
Pine328622
Nicollet326143
Brown305440
Mille Lacs304553
Le Sueur291723
Todd282132
Cass272828
Meeker256340
Waseca236222
Martin230632
Roseau209019
Wabasha20533
Hubbard189341
Dodge18493
Renville180243
Redwood174337
Houston171816
Cottonwood164923
Fillmore156310
Wadena155922
Pennington153619
Faribault152319
Chippewa152238
Kanabec144626
Sibley143510
Aitkin134936
Watonwan13279
Rock128219
Jackson121812
Pipestone115426
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11026
Murray10639
Swift105218
Stevens91311
Marshall88117
Clearwater86816
Koochiching83315
Wilkin81512
Lake81119
Lac qui Parle75322
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5768
Mahnomen5499
Norman5399
Unassigned50093
Kittson48622
Red Lake3967
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 367061

Reported Deaths: 5938
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57642625
Linn20869335
Scott20044241
Black Hawk15813308
Woodbury15132228
Johnson1448383
Dubuque13374208
Dallas1118298
Pottawattamie11122168
Story1061748
Warren577988
Clinton555693
Cerro Gordo540389
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481199
Des Moines457166
Wapello4301122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419272
Plymouth401280
Lee375855
Marion362575
Jones298957
Henry291837
Carroll285952
Bremer284560
Crawford266140
Boone264834
Benton256655
Washington253750
Dickinson248443
Mahaska230351
Jackson222142
Clay215625
Kossuth215364
Tama209771
Delaware209641
Winneshiek196934
Page192722
Buchanan191332
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184637
Hamilton179949
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler164934
Madison162319
Mills162222
Floyd160942
Cherokee158938
Lyon158041
Poweshiek154734
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148234
Winnebago142431
Calhoun138513
Cass138554
Grundy136333
Emmet134340
Jefferson132435
Shelby131037
Sac130319
Union128333
Louisa128149
Appanoose127949
Mitchell126342
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120521
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100124
Unassigned9740
Keokuk95931
Monroe95129
Ida90335
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis83024
Monona82730
Osceola78716
Greene77710
Lucas77223
Worth7478
Taylor66012
Fremont6229
Decatur6089
Ringgold55824
Van Buren55818
Wayne53923
Audubon51010
Adams3384
Rochester
Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 65°
Mason City
Mostly Cloudy
68° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 68°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 73°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 73°
Charles City
Mostly Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: °
Warmer conditions for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events