An inside look into the hidden, not-so-perfect world of the Hart family whose car plunged off a cliff
The area where the car plummeted would have normally served as the perfect place for a family picture but now the once beautiful spot has become a reminder of a terrible tragedy
Jennifer and Sarah Hart were two white women who adopted six black children, two sets of biological siblings. All of their friends and their ardent followers on Facebook called them the "the perfect people with the perfect kids". Friends called them the "Hart Tribe" and they consisted of 38-year-olds Jennifer and Sarah and their adopted children - Markis, 19, Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, Abigail, 14, Jeremiah, 14, and Sierra, 12. Their home looked like a happy place from the outside but there is definitely one burning question that the world has when they hear the name of the family: what made Jen Hart drive the family SUV, with the whole family in it, off a 100ft cliff and into the Pacific Ocean right off California's Highway 1? The area where the car plummeted would have normally served as the perfect spot for a family picture but now the once beautiful spot has become a reminder of a terrible tragedy.
Many news outlets, including PEOPLE, reported the case. Images of an SUV lying on its roof at the base of the cliff on a rocky outcrop is what the world got to see of the Hart Tribe in the beginning. Rescue workers were photographed rappelling down the cliff to the car which lay 100ft below. They were able to lift up the bodies of three of the children as well as the mothers from the wreckage.
In the days after the Hart family's SUV was discovered at the bottom of a California cliff, investigators visited their Washington state home and were surprised to find almost no evidence that six children lived in the house https://t.co/TIJarCXnCi pic.twitter.com/Bbe870GyMb— CNN (@CNN) August 30, 2018
When the coroner conducted tests on the corpses, he found diphenhydramine, which is an ingredient that is used in allergy medication like Benadryl, in the bodies of Sarah and two of the children. Jen's blood alcohol content was over the legal limit and it was also found out that nobody in the car was wearing a seatbelt. The car's "black box" also revealed that Jen, who had been driving, stopped the family car 70ft away from the edge of the cliff and then suddenly accelerated. The county sheriff had said 10 days after the crash: "I'm to the point where I no longer am calling this as an accident. I'm calling it a crime."
Then it was revealed that mere months before the family was found dead at the base of the cliff, 16-year-old Hannah Hart had run to their next-door neighbors home in the middle of the night "begging for help". This was only one of a multitude of disturbing interactions that the neighbors had with the Hart family which has been released in a bounty of investigative documents, reported PEOPLE.
The incident in the 400-plus pages of documents is a report from the Clark County Sheriff's Office that revealed how in summer 2017, Hannah had managed to leap out of a second-story window in the family home in Woodlawn, Washington, and ran for her life to the DeKalb's home next door. The DeKalb's were only one of the two neighbors that the Hart family had in the area that they stayed.
According to the report that was made by the sheriff's office after an interview with the DeKalb couple, Hannah, who was 15 at the time, ran up the stairs and into the couple's bedroom after they opened the front door and begged the couple to get her to Seattle. Dana DeKalb, the wife, remembers that Hannah had looked a thin and "much younger" than her age. The teen was also missing her two front teeth.
The report stated: "Hannah said her parents would whip her with a belt and withhold food as punishment." Dana then said that within minutes "they could hear the rest of the family outside calling for Hannah" but the terrified teen "hid behind the bed, asking Dana not to let her family come in." The women then went outside and spoke to Jen and Sarah who told her that Hannah had a "rough childhood" and "some mental health issues". They then "assured" Dana, according to the report, that there was no abuse happening inside their home.
Jen then went inside the DeKalb household and spoke to Hannah and "when they came downstairs together, Dana described Hannah as being a much calmer and was answering Jennifer’s questions with 'yes, ma’am'." The report showed that the Hart family went back to their home and came back the next morning to apologize to the DeKalb couple. The Hart parents explained to them that the situation in their home was difficult because they had been in the middle of remodeling their home while also living in it. Property records that had been cited in the documents showed that the Harts had moved to Woodlawn in May 2017 after they had lived in Minnesota and Oregon before.
On March 26, ten months after the incident, five of the eight members of the Hart family had been found dead in their vehicle after it crashed into the rocks at the bottom of a cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California. An investigation that was conducted into the deaths led investigators to believe that the crash had been intentional with an intoxicated Jennifer driving the family SUV.
The authorities believe that all eight members of the family had been in the SUV at the time of the crash even though Hannah and Devonte Hart's bodies have still not been found. They are believed to have perished as well. It has been five months after the crash and there is still no motive that has been confirmed by the authorities. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters at a press conference in March: "I can fairly say that several of the questions that have been asked today [will] never be answered. It was un-witnessed. We don’t know what happened."
Looking at public records and news reports that came later, however, shows a disturbing pattern of a family who gets increasingly more reclusive but the bigger picture of what went on inside the home is still a mystery. The Harts are said to have a history of child abuse and it was reported that child welfare officials visited their home only days before the horrible crash that killed them. Dana was the one who had called CPS when Devonte had gone to the DeKalb home to ask for food.
The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in the state tried to contact the Hart's on three different occasions with the first time being on March 23. They tried on March 26 and then 27 again without realizing that the family had died in the car crash. The authorities in California had announced earlier that Jen had been intoxicated when she had been driving the SUV and that three of the Hart children had tested positive for the active ingredient found in Benadryl. Sarah was also confirmed to have had the presence of the drug in her system.
Hannah and Devonte's bodies are still unaccounted for but the search for the corpses is still active.