Devonte Hart, a boy who in 2014 was at the center of a viral photo shown embracing a Portland policeman, is missing and at least five family members are dead after their SUV plunged off a cliff along the Northern California coast.
Devonte, now 15, is believed to have been in his family’s vehicle as it went off a Pacific Coast Highway cliff Monday, killing his parents and at least three siblings.
Authorities continued late Wednesday to scour the crash scene, including the ocean, in search of the children believed to have been in the car and are missing, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said.
The victims, former West Linn residents who had moved to Woodland, Washington, plunged to their deaths when their 2003 GMC veered off Route 1 near the town of Westport and fell 100 feet, eventually landing on its roof on a large rock at the shoreline.
The three children killed weren’t using seat belts and came out of the vehicle at some point, the California Highway Patrol said. The women were found inside wearing safety restraints.
Authorities on Wednesday identified the adults as Jennifer Jean Hart, the driver, and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38. The Hart children killed were Markis,19; Hannah, 16; Devonte, 15; Jeremiah 14; Abigail, 14; and Sierra, 12. All were adopted.
The sheriff’s office said they can’t find siblings Devonte, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12. The other three children were not recovered, but California authorties said Wednesday they are also presumed dead.
The crash occurred days after authorities in Washington tried to visit the family home multiple times after receiving reports of abuse and neglect concerning the children.
At a news conference Wednesday, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said officials have “every indication to believe” all six children were in the vehicle when it went off the cliff.
“We have no evidence and no reason to believe this was an intentional act,” Allman said. He also said there are no skid marks or brake marks indicating why the vehicle went off the cliff. He said an investigation is ongoing.
The sheriff appealed for the public’s help in retracing where the family had been in recent days.
In 2014, a photograph of a tear-streaked Devonte hugging Sgt. Bret Barnum during a tense “Black Lives Matter” demonstration in downtown Portland garnered global attention.
The photo, originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, was featured in national media, reached No. 1 on the social-sharing website Reddit and drew widespread Facebook attention.
Norah West, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, on Wednesday said the agency attempted to contact the family three times after receiving reports of abuse or neglect but was unsuccessful.
Court records in Minnesota show Sarah Hart received a 90-day suspended jail sentence and a year of probation in 2011 after her six-year-old daughter arrived at school with bruises on her stomach and back. The girl told a teacher, “Mom hit me,” according to records.
Source: Oregon Live
Photo: Tristan Fortsch, AP
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