Law enforcement agents investigating the apparent murder-suicide that killed five members of the Hart family and left three children missing have shared more details about the search for Devonte Hart, Sierra Hart, and Hannah Hart.
Mendocino County Sheriff Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten told CrimeOnline that authorities were able to identify the remains of Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14, through photographs and with the help of Jennifer and Sarah Hart’s relatives, who knew their adopted children. Both mothers were found dead inside their 2003 GMS Yukon after it plunged over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean on March 26, with Jennifer behind the wheel. The children were found outside the vehicle. At this time, authorities believe Jennifer drove the SUV over a cliff intentionally.
The sheriff’s office has placed a hold on the recovered bodies, meaning that the remains will not be released to relatives for dispensation at this time.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart were “largely estranged” from their families, Van Patten said, but the relatives were aware of the children and had interacted with them.
The Hart mothers didn’t appear to have a lot of close social contacts at all, Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman said.
“They didn’t have a whole slew of friends,” the sheriff said.
While social media posts from people who claimed to have known the family suggest that Jennifer and Sarah Hart belonged to some type of community, it is unclear if the Harts frequently socialized in person, or if they primarily kept in touch with their friends online. As CrimeOnline previously reported, a woman who knew the family when they lived in Minnesota said that the Harts were part of a large “tribe” that followed the same musicians and went to the same music festivals. The woman said that she only saw the Harts at these festivals, when she would often camp beside them, and stayed in touch with Jennifer and Sarah Hart on social media after they moved to the Pacific Northwest.
CrimeOnline has attempted to contact several people believed to be part of this community, and nearly all of them have not responded.
By all accounts, Sarah and Jennifer Hart lived somewhat off the grid. All six children were homeschooled after Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault in 2011, in a case involving physical abuse of her daughter. The Harts reportedly did not properly register to homeschool their children in Oregon and Washington, the last states they lived in. It is unclear if the children saw traditional medical doctors, and the circumstances of their early childhood remain a mystery. Their adoption records in Texas are sealed, and it is unclear how or why Sarah and Jennifer Hart, who were living in Minnesota at the time, adopted the children from out-of-state. There is no indication at this time that either woman had ties to Texas.
It has been repeated that the system failed #DevonteHart. Let's not continue to do so. Devonte, Hannah & Sierra are missing & possibly alive. Let's help spread awareness. Their images need to be shared along with all coverage. #HannahHart #SierraHart #BlackTwitter @CNN pic.twitter.com/ZhYPx1jPz0
— ColeRae (@IAmColeRae) April 6, 2018
Captain Van Patten said that authorities may have initially mistaken Sierra Hart’s age to be 12 years old. Authorities now believe she is 15 years old. Sierra is missing along with her brother Devonte, who is 15, and her sister Hannah, who is 16.
Both Mendocino County Sheriff’s officers reiterated to CrimeOnline that authorities are presuming the three missing children were in the car with the family when it plunged into the Pacific Ocean largely because of what they have learned about the family’s typical patterns — the children and their parents were rarely if ever separated, and the family always traveled together.
Van Patten said he believes that authorities would have been made aware by now of any surviving Hart children. Referring to reports from the Hart’s neighbors that Devonte came to their home asking for food in the days before the family left Washington state, “he’s self-sufficient enough to communicate and reach out to others if they are in need,” Van Patten said.
Still, Sheriff Allman said that investigators are actively looking for clues that the children may still be alive, including evidence of campfire sites that might suggest the children are attempting to protect themselves from the elements as a rainstorm batters Northern California, postponing the search and recovery effort in the water.
He said that authorities have not located all of the cell phones that belonged to the Hart family, but that they are still able to track the devices for any activity. There has been no cell phone activity since March 26. Investigators are continuing to examine surveillance footage taken at a grocery store in Fort Bragg, California, where Jennifer Hart was seen on March 25, to help determine if all of the family members were together at the time.
“I am looking for any information that could lead us to be skeptical ourselves” that the three missing Hart children were not in the family’s SUV when it when over a cliff from the Pacific Coast Highway. He reiterated that he is urging the public to be vigilant and contact authorities if they have believe they have seen any of the missing children.