Devonte Hart rose to internet fame in 2014 after a photo appeared online of the 12-year-old hugging Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum at a peaceful protest surrounding the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Today, Hart is reported missing after his families SUV was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Police are reporting that Hart's parents Sarah and Jennifer Hart, were found dead in the vehicle along with siblings, Markis, 19, Abigail, 14, and Jeremiah, 14. Two of the other children, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, along with Devonte can not be found. It is assumed they were in the car and ejected. The police continue the search in hopes of finding them.
After the photo of Devonte went viral the family had a tough time with the new found fame. After receiving emailed death threats, the Harts moved from West Linn Oregon to rural Washington in a hopes to find peace and quiet.
A family friend, Samatha Sinclair, spoke about the photo saying:
It put Devonte in the crosshairs of a lot of people, so to speak. It was such a beautiful photo, but not everyone saw it that way.
The investigation is ongoing. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman had this to say:
We have no evidence and no reason to believe this was an intentional act.
Police are trying to learn why an SUV they believe was carrying a family of eight plunged off a cliff in Northern California. Jennifer and Sarah Hart from Washington and three of their kids were found dead at the scene. The other three are still missing https://t.co/dQQXCt9Fx4 pic.twitter.com/pdDnzFF5IO— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 29, 2018
#UPDATE: "We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy." Authorities in Mendocino County investigating why an SUV plunged about 100 feet off a coastal cliff, killing a family of 8. https://t.co/b43vr9JoS5 pic.twitter.com/DBkeOqVGxg— Stephen Ellison (@sj_ellison) March 29, 2018
There was an outpouring of love for the family on social media.
Oh, sweet boy. I hope he's safe. If not, then I hope he's at peace.— Lexie King (@Lexcellent15) March 29, 2018
In light of the tragedy, reports are coming forward that Child Protective Services was trying to get in touch with the family after neighbors accused the mothers of abuse and neglect. At this time it is unknown who filed the reports or if there was merit, but people have started reacting anyway.
smells like wrong way driver #dianeschuler on the #taconicparkway: none of those children wore seat belts either— fuelgrannie (@fuelgrannie) March 29, 2018
it's evil when people kill their children, adopted or not: kill yourselves, we'll take your kids and take better care of them too
rest in peace, innocent souls 😞🙏
Well this sounds like murder suicide. Very tragic. They should have let those kids go if they couldn't handle them. Smh— Addiction is pain (@CuredTheAddict) March 29, 2018
John Tierney, an executive producer for investigative and political stories for KGWN News tweeted this recap of what we know now—
New details on Sarah Hart, mother involved in Calif. crash: she pleaded guilty in 2011 in Minnesota to domestic assault. Court docs show a teacher called police after seeing bruises on the stomach and back of Hart's adopted daughter. 1/— John Tierney (@jtierney6) March 28, 2018
According to criminal complaint filed in Minnesota, Hart admitted to detective she "let her anger get out of control" while spanking daughter. Said she bent girl over bathtub, which caused bruising. 2/— John Tierney (@jtierney6) March 28, 2018
Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse charge. Second charge was dismissed. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail but it appears she didn't have to serve because she met conditions of parole. 3/— John Tierney (@jtierney6) March 28, 2018
We're reporting on this past conviction because sheriff's office and neighbors say CPS was also called to Hart house on Friday before they left for Calif. Neighbor says Devonte begged them for food. 4/— John Tierney (@jtierney6) March 28, 2018
Sheriff's spokesman in Calif. says investigators are aware of the past incidents and will take a "broad look" at this case, but cautions they are far off from determining exactly what happened. 5/— John Tierney (@jtierney6) March 28, 2018