Updated: April 22, 11:35 a.m.
A woman who claims to have been one of Jennifer Hart’s closest friends admitted in an interview this week that she had minimal interaction with most of the Hart children, and said that she never heard Hannah Hart speak. But that claim contradicts a Facebook post she made just a few days earlier.
Hannah and her brother Devonte Hart are still missing. Jennifer and Sarah Hart and four of their six adopted children — Markis, Abigail, Jeremiah, and Sierra — were found dead after the family’s SUV went over a cliff in northern California last month, with Jennifer Hart behind the wheel.
Authorities have said plainly that they believe the crash was no accident. Toxicology tests showed that Jennifer Hart had a blood alcohol level of .102 at the time of the fatal crash, well over the legal limit. Sarah and two of the children found near the vehicle all showed high levels of Diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, which can cause drowsiness. Toxicology results for a third child recovered from the initial crash site and for Sierra Hart, who was found nearly two weeks after the fatal SUV plunge, are still pending.
Nusheen Bakhtiar told The Oregonian that she became close friends with Jennifer Hart — known to her friends as Jen — in 2013, after meeting the family at a music festival.
“Jen was the most sensitive, gentle, humane person,” she said.
Bakhtiar has recently become a quasi-spokeperson for the Hart family on behalf of their ‘tribe’ of friends, many who appear to have met the family at music festivals and stayed in touch primarily on social media. Several of these friends have defended Jennifer and Sarah Hart in social media posts insisting that the women were devoted, caring mothers, and accusing the media of making up stories that are cited directly from interviews with investigators, witnesses, and authorities. While some, including Bakhtiar, appear to accept the possibility that Jennifer may have driven her family over the cliff intentionally, they are dismissive of evidence that the children were abused and underfed while they were alive. And there is little acknowledgement that Devonte and Hannah Hart are still missing, even though authorities have no physical evidence proving that the teen siblings were in the car at the time of the crash, and the FBI has recently released missing persons flyers.
— FBI Most Wanted (@FBIMostWanted) April 18, 2018
In 2011, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse after her daughter showed up to school with bruises. In Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington, social services fielded reports about the family; and in all three states, witnesses or the children themselves claimed the mothers withheld food as a form of punishment.
According to The Oregonian report, Bakhtiar visited the Hart’s home in West Linn, Oregon, “a handful of times,” and only interacted with Devonte and Jeremiah. She said the other children would typically be buried in books, and that she never heard Hannah Hart speak at all.
After an earlier version of this story was published, a source sent CrimeOnline a screenshot of a comment Bakhtiar posted in a Facebook group dedicated to the Hart family. In the comment, Bakhtiar addresses Hannah Hart’s missing front teeth, which Jennifer Hart said the girl lost when she fell while running in the house in 2012. Hannah never had the teeth replaced.
CrimeOnline verified with an administrator and multiple members of the Facebook group that Nusheen’s since-deleted comment had been posted there this week. Bakhtiar said in the comment that “she spoke with Hannah about her teeth. That was her choice, she didn’t want implants.”
Bakhtiar did not immediately respond to CrimeOnline‘s request to clarify her seemingly contradictory claims.
Bakhtiar told The Oregonian she believed that Hannah, a teenager at the time, was several years younger than her actual age. So did the Hart’s neighbors in Woodland, Washington, who met Hannah for the first time last year when she reportedly burst into their home in the middle of the night claiming she was being abused and asking them to help her run away. Her parents quickly came to retrieve Hannah, and Jennifer and Sarah Hart reportedly explained away her behavior by claiming she was a “drug baby” who had been born to a bipolar mother.
Bakhtiar told The Oregonian that Jen didn’t share specifics about the early childhood issues that led to the Hart children’s small size and purported behavioral issues, out of respect for the biological parents. But Jen Hart did share details in a Facebook post in 2012 about Devonte, a more frequent subject than her other children:
“Born into a world of drugs (pumping through his newly born body), weapons and extreme poverty, one would assume his future was bleak. … By the time he was 4, he had smoked, consumed alcohol, handled guns, been shot at and suffered severe abuse and neglect.”
Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra Hart, whose legal name is Ciera, were biological siblings born in Texas; their mother was a drug abuser, and Jeremiah — not Devonte — reportedly tested positive for cocaine at birth. The mother lost custody of the children, and an aunt tried to adopt them, but was denied custody after the children’s mother made an unauthorized visit to the home when the aunt wasn’t there.
The attorney who represented the children’s aunt in the custody case told The Oregonian that Jen Hart made false claims about Devonte’s background.
“Those are all lies, that did not happen. Devonte was not born on drugs,” Attorney Shonda Jones said. “I’ve never heard anything about being shot at or anything like that.”
Earlier this month, a friend who knew the Harts when they lived in Minnesota told CrimeOnline that she had also been told about the adopted children’s rough beginnings, but only from their mothers. The Hart children never spoke about their lives in Texas before the adoption, she said.
Jennifer Hart’s father, who had a falling out with his daughter in 2001, said he thinks there must be some explanation for the family’s deaths other than his daughter committing a murder-suicide.
“I will never ever, ever, ever, ever believe my daughter would do such a thing,” Douglas Hart told The Oregonian.
“I just don’t believe she would take her own life or her spouse’s life or her six children’s lives.”
And Bakhtiar told the newspaper that she doesn’t understand how Jen had a high blood-alcohol level, since she never drank.
Douglas Hart said the disagreement that preceded the estrangement was not about Jennifer’s relationship with another woman, which he said he didn’t know about.
“There was issues but there is no perfect family out there,” he said. “I don’t believe Jennifer hated me.”
Bakhtiar appears to have lost touch with Jen more recently, though that wasn’t clear from her social media posts or an interview she gave to a local news station earlier this week. According to correspondences she shared with The Oregonian, Bakhtiar asked Jen six times to see the family, but wasn’t invited, and Jen did not reply to her last two text messages.
The newspaper noted that during the last 16 months of her life, Jennifer Hart seemed to be in an anxious, dark place.
“Jen, no matter how much people loved her, always felt very isolated and alone,” Bakhtiar said.
Bakhtiar said earlier this week in a comment on a Facebook thread that authorities cremated the remains of the family members found dead in the crash, and the ashes were sent to relatives in South Dakota. On April 6, Mendocino County Sheriff Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten told CrimeOnline that the remains had been placed on hold, and would not be released to the family for dispensation. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to repeated inquiries this week regarding the status of the remains.
[Feature image: The Hart Family/Thomas Boyd for The Oregonian via Associated Press]