The women who died in a possible murder-suicide last week, driving at least three of their adopted children over a cliff in Northern California, were accused of child abuse as early as 2008.
The Oregonian obtained a police report from 2008 showing that Hannah Hart, who was six years old at the time, told authorities that her mother hit her with a belt, three years before Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic violence in connection to a separate incident involving another daughter, Abigail.
According to the report, the mothers told investigators that the girl, who had bruises, had recently fallen down the stairs. Hannah reportedly claimed it was Jennifer Hart who had hit her. It does not appear that any further action was taken at that time.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Abigail Hart reported alleged abuse in 2010, telling a teacher that bruises on her torso were the result of her mother spanking her while bending her over a bathtub. She also said her mother hit her with a closed fist, held her head under cold water, and denied food as forms of punishment.
Although Abigail reportedly said it was Jennifer Hart who hit her, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse in 2011 after a teacher contacted authorities, who launched an investigation.
According to a new report in the Oregonian, the Harts pulled their children out of public school the day after Sarah pleaded guilty to abuse charges.
“The leave date indicates all six children left prior to the end of the school year for a homeschool setting,” Jill Johnson, a school district spokesperson, told the newspaper.
The Harts homeschooled their children after that point, but reportedly did not file the proper paperwork in Oregon, where they moved from Minnesota, or in Washington, where they were living at the time of the fatal crash. The Harts were the subject of social service referrals in both states. Oregon DHS declined to provide records of a July 2013 incident, and CPS workers visited the Hart home in Woodland, Washington, the Friday before the fatal crash. Neighbors told The Oregonian they suspect the family fled after the first visit from CPS, during which no one answered the door.
The Oregonian reports that Jennifer Hart was driving the SUV when it went over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean last week, killing both parents and three of their children.
Authorities are continuing to search for Devonte, 16; Hannah, 16; and Sierra Hart; 12. The California Highway Patrol has said in recent days that investigators are keeping open the possibility that the three missing children were not in the family car when it plunged over a cliff on March 26.
Anyone with information about any Hart family member’s whereabouts before or after the fatal crash is urged to call the California Highway Patrol – Ukiah Area office at (707) 467-4000 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086.
[Feature image: The Hart Family/Associated Press]