‘They were pretty controlled’: Former neighbor says Devonte Hart and siblings may have been told not to talk

The 15-year-old boy missing after his family’s SUV plunged from a cliff into the Pacific Ocean went to a neighbor’s house begging for help three times the day before the family is believed to have fled their home.

Devonte Hart, the subject of a famous photograph taken at a 2014 Portland protest, and his sisters Sierra and Hannah are still missing, but presumed dead. Their adoptive parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and three of their siblings were found dead in or near the SUV earlier this week.

A Portland police officer embraces Devonte Hart at a police brutality demonstration in 2014. Credit: Associated Press

Bruce and Dana DeKalb, who live next door to the Hart family in Woodland, Washington, told the Washington Post that Devonte and Hannah Hart had visited their home multiple times begging for help.

In one instance, Bruce DeKalb said, Hannah had jumped from a second-story window and ran to the DeKalb’s home in the middle of the night. The Hart family had been living in the neighborhood for about three months at that time.

“That kid was totally losing her mind, just rattled to the bone,” Bruce DeKalb told the Washington Post. The couple told the Press-Democrat that Hannah said she was running away because she was being abused, and wanted a ride to Seattle.

According to the Press Democrat, Hannah’s parents came looking for her quickly, and that the whole family came by the next day with a letter of apology signed by Hannah, who didn’t speak during the visit.

The DeKalbs also said they believed Hannah, who is now 16, was about 7 years old, presumably because of her size. They said her two front teething were missing, but that her parents had explained it away as an accident and claimed Hannah did not want her teeth fixed.

Last Thursday, which may have been the last full day the Harts spent in their home, Devonte went to the DeKalb’s three separate times, asking for food like he had before. The couple told the Washington Post they had previously given him peanut butter and tortillas when he was hungry, and on that Thursday he asked for a large supply of it, along with apples and cured meats, to feed his siblings.

The DeKalbs told the Washington Post that Devonte urged his neighbors to call Child Protective Services, which they did the next day. But the Press Democrat, which also interviewed the couple, reports that Devonte asked the DeKalbs not to call authorities, and that they eventually concluded that his visits were a cry for help.

Bruce DeKalb told the newspaper that he saw a CPS worker knock on the Hart’s door on Friday, and then turn around and leave after only a minute. The Harts were likely home at the time, their neighbors said.

The DeKalbs told the Washington Post they believe the family left either Friday night or Saturday morning. When a CPS worker went back to the home on Monday, they were gone.

It was Monday night when the family’s SUV plunged into the ocean, without leaving any skid or brake marks behind. Investigators found the two women still in the car, and the children in the water near the vehicle. They said that none had been wearing seatbelts.

On Wednesday, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters that there was no evidence the fatal plunge was intentional, and said authorities believed that all six adopted children were in the car. There have been no substantive updates from investigators in recent days.

Another neighbor who knew the Harts when they lived in West Linn, Oregon, told the Washington Post that the family seemed exceptionally private.

“They were very lovely kids, they smiled a lot. But you couldn’t really have a conversation with them. It was like they had been asked not to,” Groener said.

“It seemed like they were pretty controlled.”


[Feature image: The Hart Family/Associated Press]