PORTLAND, Ore. – Authorities in Oregon, Washington and Minnesota all received reports of child welfare concerns involving the Hart family prior to the family’s fatal crash on the California coast, records and interviews show.
Married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found dead, along with three of their adopted children, after Jennifer drove the family’s SUV off a cliff in California on March 26. The couple’s three other children are missing and presumed dead.
Investigators believe the crash was intentional.
Over the past decade, the family has lived in Alexandria, Minnesota; West Linn, Oregon; and Woodland, Washington. Friends say the family was loving but records show several allegations of abuse or neglect.
Below is a timeline of what was reported, where and when.
Nov, 15, 2010: One of the Hart’s daughters Abigail, then 6 years old, told her teacher that she had “owies” on her tummy and back, according to a complaint filed in Minnesota. The teacher said she saw bruises on her stomach and back. Abigail then told her teacher, “mom hit me.”
During an interview with detectives, Sarah Hart admitted to spanking her daughter and she said she let her anger get out of control, according to the complaint.
Jennifer Hart told investigators she knew that Sarah spanked her daughter.
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault and was sentenced to 90 days in jail but wasn’t required to serve time due to terms of her probation.
July 18, 2013: West Linn police generated a report based on a child welfare concern that came in to the department involving the Hart family. West Linn police said they forwarded their report to the Oregon Department of Human Services. That document has not yet been made public and the details of the complaint are unknown.
March 23, 2018: The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said Child Protective Services opened an investigation into the Hart family after the children were identified as potential victims of neglect and abuse.
Neighbors told KGW they contacted CPS on March 23 and reported the children weren’t being fed.
Washington Child Protective Services was unaware of any other child welfare concerns involving the Hart family either in Washington state or elsewhere.
A few hours after the CPS visit, neighbors reported the family left the home.
Neighbors’ abuse claims
In an interview with KGW, neighbors Dana and Bruce DeKalb said one of the children, Devonte Hart, made a daily habit of sneaking next door and asking for tortillas, cured meats, and non-perishable food items. He sometimes visited the neighbors multiple times a day. The DeKalbs said Devonte claimed his mothers didn’t feed him and "they would withhold food from him as a punishment."
The DeKalbs said they were alarmed by how thin and small the kids were, and the fact that one daughter was missing her two front teeth at the age of 12.
"They were all small," Bruce DeKalb said. "One girl who was 12 looked like she was 7. Both of her teeth were missing, front teeth, and we questioned [the mothers], 'What's up with the teeth thing' and they said, 'She didn't want them replaced.' We thought that was a little weird."
The DeKalbs also said one of the daughters showed up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, covered in blackberries because she had walked through blackberry bushes trying to escape her home.
"She said that she wanted us to take her to Seattle and that they [the parents] weren't treating her right, and don't make her go back," Bruce DeKalb said. "You know, kids can do stuff sometimes when they're at a certain age, they run away from home and stuff like that. By that time, [the family was] all out looking for her with flashlights so we tried to get some story as to what was going on and, of course, they told us what we wanted to hear, I guess. Life went on for another eight months and here we are today."
March 23, 26, and 27, 2018: CPS officials tried to contact the Hart family on three separate occasions.
March 26, 2018: The family’s SUV was found at the bottom of a cliff in California. The vehicle was accelerating when it went off the cliff.