More reports of alleged abuse and neglect are surfacing in the investigation of a fatal SUV crash that is believed to have killed an entire family; two parents and their six adopted children.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, investigators are searching for Devonte Hart, 15; Hannah Hart, 16; and Sierra Hart, 12. All three are feared dead. Three siblings and their parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, were found dead near the SUV after it reportedly plunged into the Pacific Ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway sometime Monday. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash, and did not find skid or brake marks at the scene.
Just before the Hart family left their Woodland, Washington, home last week, neighbors called Child Protective Services over concerns that the adopted children had been neglected and/or abused. Bruce and Dana DeKalb told The Oregonian that Devonte had been to their home several times asking for food. He reportedly told them that his parents were withholding food as punishment, and asked them to hide food near a fence between their homes so his parents wouldn’t discover it.
Representatives from CPS reportedly visited the home on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, but did not find anyone there. The DeKalbs told The Oregonian they believe the Harts left after the first CPS visit on Friday. Investigators who searched the home after the discovery of the fatal plunge found personal belongings and pets left behind. A friend from Oregon, where the Harts previously lived, told the newspaper that she believed the family had gone on an impromptu road trip, something she said they had often done in the past.
According to a new report in The Oregonian, Abigail Hart, one of the children who has been found dead, told police and a social worker in 2010 that she was denied food as punishment for misbehaving.
Abigail, who was six years old at the time, reportedly told authorities that she was given a harsh punishment after she was found with a penny in her pocket. The newspaper obtained the police report from Alexandria, Minnesota, where the Harts were living at the time.
“She had a penny in her pocket and this made her mom mad,” reads the police report. Abigail reportedly said that her mother Jennifer hit her with a closed fist and forced her to take a cold bath.
“When asked what happens when she gets grounded, she stated that she has to stay in her bed and has no lunch,” the report reads. “[She] also stated that she had missed lunch this past Saturday.”
The same year, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge after Abigail showed a school employee bruises on her torso. Sarah reportedly admitted that she had lost control of her anger and spanked the girl while bending her over a bathtub. But in the police reports obtained by The Oregonian, Abigail said it was her mother Jennifer who had hurt her.
According to the newspaper, during an investigation into the 2010 incident, at least two of Abigail’s siblings said that their parents sometimes spanked them and grounded them as punishment, but were never violent. The parents reportedly told authorities that Abigail had a problem with lying.
Devonte Hart gained national attention in 2014 after a photo of the then-12-year-old boy in an embrace with a Portland police officer went viral. Devonte was attending a demonstration in Portland to protest police brutality, after an unarmed teen was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Devonte was wearing a sign that read “Free Hugs” at the demonstration.
[Feature image: The Hart Family/Associated Press]