Along with their children, the bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found inside the Hart’s SUV at the bottom of a California cliff, CNN reports. More questions than answers still loom, but this is what we know now. Page 6 will break your heart.
1. Authorities thought the family got into an accident
Officials originally asserted the deaths were an accident. “We have no evidence and reason to believe that this was an intentional attack,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said at a news conference, Yahoo reports. “Certainly people are wondering what caused this.”
Next: Police assumed the case would remain a mystery.
2. Officials thought they’d never know what happened
Because no one witnessed the accident, Allman said the case would likely remain a mystery. “I can fairly say that several of the questions that have been asked today [will] never be answered,” he said during a news conference. “It was un-witnessed, we don’t know what happened.”
Allman also said the crime scene was confusing and, “There were no skid marks, there were no brake marks or there was no indication why this vehicle traversed approximately 75 feet over a dirt pull-out and went into the Pacific Ocean,” according to Yahoo.
Next: Some of the children are unaccounted.
3. Three of the children are still missing
The couple had six children, however only three of the children’s bodies were recovered, according to NBC News. Currently, Devonte, Hannah, and Sierra are missing, but presumed dead.
Next: Devonte was one the image of hope.
4. This Hart child rose to fame from a viral image
The image of Devonte, who is African American, hugging white police officer Sgt. Bret Barnumin during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon against police brutality went viral, according to The New York Times. The protest occurred after police were found not guilty in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, Oregon Live reports.
Devonte was holding a sign that read, “Free hugs,” which prompted a discussion between the child and officer. Barnum told Devonte he was sorry, then pointed at Devonte’s sign and said, “Hey, can I have one of those?”
Next: The investigation takes a dark turn.
5. The crash may have been intentional
Authorities now believe the crash was no accident. “We do have reason to believe, however, that the crash was intentional,” Greg Baarts, acting assistant chief for the northern division of the California Highway Patrol said to local NBC affiliate KGW8-TV . “This is all based on preliminary information.” Data from the vehicle’s software suggests the couple stopped the vehicle at a dirt pull off before accelerating over the cliff, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney cautioned it was still early to arrive at any conclusions.
Next: This information may provide one clue.
6. Whispers of child abuse cloud the case
In 2011 Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault after letting her anger get “out of control” when spanking one of the children, CBS News reports. Also, two weeks prior to the accidents, neighbors called child protective services because Devonte continued to visit their home asking for food. Neighbor Dana DeKalb told CBS News Devonte said his parents were “punishing them by withholding food” and to leave food in a box by the fence for him.
Next: Family friends come to the couple’s defense.
7. Friends refute abuse claims
Friends refer to the couple, who adopted all six of their children as being, “Really radiant, warm, adventurous, inspiring people,” friend Zippy Lomax told CBS News. “They were always on some grand adventure, and the kids were living this life that was kind of like this dream.”
Another friend said the couple transformed the children’s lives as the kids originally came from “hard backgrounds,” according to CBS News.
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