Videos shared by Devonte Hart’s mother Jennifer Hart on her YouTube page offer a glimpse into the lives of Devonte and his five siblings before a fatal SUV crash this week. And in the context of recently surfaced abuse allegations, it may be an unsettling view for some.
Devonte, who became internet-famous in 2014 after a photo of the then 12-year-old boy in a tearful embrace with a Portland police officer went viral, is still missing, along with two of his sisters. His parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and three of his siblings were found dead in waters off the Pacific Coast Highway earlier this week. The SUV the family was riding in reportedly plunged into the ocean off the California coast. All six of the adopted children are believed to have been in the car, and none of the recovered victims were wearing seatbelts.
Jennifer Hart, one of Devonte’s mothers, shared videos of her children on her YouTube channel beginning in 2011. In one of the videos, taken at Thanksgiving in 2013, Devonte and three of his siblings perform the song “We are So Provided For,” by the artist Nahko. The children are seen in another video on the channel dancing with Nahko, and appear to dedicate the below video to him.
The song’s title is notable in light of recent reports that both Devonte and his sister Abigail, who was killed in the crash, had previously claimed to neighbors and authorities that their parents denied them food as a form of punishment. Devonte reportedly begged his neighbors to leave food hidden for him by a fence separating their homes very shortly before the family disappeared. The neighbors told The Oregonian that they called Child Protective Services to report possible neglect or abuse last week, and that they believe that may be why Sarah and Jennifer Hart drove off with their children, leaving pets and personal belongings behind.
A former neighbor of the Harts who knew the when they lived in Oregon told the newspaper that she believed the family had gone on an impromptu road trip, as they have done in the past, and insisted the children were happy and well cared for by their mothers, a married, white, same-sex couple. All of the adopted children are black.
In December 2014, after Devonte Hart had become well-known due to the viral photo, Jennifer Hart uploaded a video of Devonte performing “an interpretive dance” in his underwear to the song “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.
In the video description, Jen Hart wrote, “While I would LOVE to share more clips from the evening, apparently not all the kids are thrilled with the notion of everyone seeing them shake their booties in their underwear. Most of the kids danced for over 4 hours straight- until 1:00 am.
“This kid outlasted me. Elton John glasses, underwear, Joni Mitchell, fishy accessories, dance ’til dawn: just your average Friday night.”
Prior to that, Devonte appeared on a video hugging a performer at the Beloved music festival outside of Tidewater, Oregon. Devonte, who was presumably carrying or wearing a “Free Hugs” sign — as he was when the officer approached him in the viral photo — appears in the video at around the 8:40 mark. Like he was in the famous photograph with the police officer, Devonte is crying as he hugs the musician.
Jen Hart posted a comment on the video, which was uploaded by Peaceful Ventures.
“Just wanted to take a moment to personally thank you for capturing the video of my son, Devonte, with Xavier at Beloved. I was shooting still photos, so I was hoping that a quality video would arise at some point. This moment is forever etched on our hearts, and most likely anyone who was there to witness this raw human love. Devonte was wearing his ‘Free Hugs’ sign that he travels the country with. He’s hugged thousands, sharing his love for all. There is a long story behind the emotion and why this moment was so special for Devonte. Thank you for enabling everyone to live this moment again through your video. “
CrimeOnline reached out to the performer in the Beloved festival, Xavier Rudd, as well as the artist Nahko. Neither artist immediately responded to our request for comment.
Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the fatal SUV plunge and are still searching for Devonte and his sisters, 16-year old Hannah Hart and 12-year-old Sierra Hart. The chief of police in Mendocino County, where the accident took place, told reporters earlier this week that there is no evidence at this time that the crash was intentional, although there were no skid or break marks found at the scene.
[Feature image: Devonte Hart and siblings/YouTube screenshot]