The Oregon Department of Human Services has released records to CrimeOnline relating to the agency’s investigation of Sarah and Jennifer Hart. A DHS file was opened in 2013 in response to a report that the Hart children were being mistreated and underfed.
As part of the case initiated on June 28, 2013 by a report from a worried family friend, Oregon DHS made contact with Minnesota Child Welfare. The family lived in Alexandria, Minnesota, before moving to Oregon, and the friend who made the call told Oregon DHS about an open case in Minnesota.
The caller, whose named was redacted from the report, said that the Jennifer Hart and the children had slept over at her home one night a few months after the family moved to Oregon. It is unclear if Sarah Hart was present at the time. The group ordered pizza, and Jennifer Hart gave each child one slice, the caller said. During the night, someone had gone into the refrigerator and taken more pizza. The next morning, Jennifer Hart reportedly became enraged and dragged Sierra Hart out of bed by her arm. She then reportedly forced the children to lie on an air mattress with the arms by their sides, while wearing sleeping masks, for five hours.
The caller said that Jennifer Hart frequently withheld food as punishment, and that the children could not speak freely with people outside the family, an impression previously shared by a former neighbor.
“The Caller said if you ask any of the kids a question, like even what [they are] reading, or what they like to do, they first look to Jen to make sure [it’s] ok for them to talk,” the report reads.
The referrer also said that Jen made her children pose for photos she would post on Facebook — photos showing a smiling, happy family. “[B]ut after the photo event, they go back to looking lifeless.”
The 2013 Oregon DHS report includes records from Minnesota Child Welfare services from 2010 and 2011, showing that both child welfare workers and school faculty in Minnesota were concerned for the Hart children’s well-being. Both Abigail and Hannah Hart were reported to be seeking food at school – either taking it from the garbage, asking classmates for food, or reporting to the school nurse that they had not eaten.
When Sarah Hart was told that Hannah was asking for food at school in 2011, the adoptive mother reportedly said, “she’s playing the food card, just give her water.”
School staff stopped reporting the food-seeking behavior to Jennifer and Sarah Hart “because they didn’t want the children being disciplined or punished,” the report states.
Following a referral, Abigail was taken to a doctor for an assessment. According to the report, she was six years old at the time and appeared to be two years old. The doctor who examined her reportedly said, “she is just small, and being adopted, we don’t know their bio family history.”
The girls’ siblings said in interviews with child welfare workers that their parents would sent them to bed without supper, force them to stay in bed all day, and stand in the corner for a long time as discipline. The mothers reportedly said the children had food issues because of their “high risk” backgrounds.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse following an investigation into Abigail’s injuries, and the parents pulled the children out of school after that, continuing to homeschool them when they moved to Oregon and then Washington.
The Minnesota Child Welfare worker expressed expressed concern about the children’s home life, reporting saying the problem was “these women look normal” and would explain away the children’s behavior and complaints by pointing to their backgrounds.
“Without any regular or consistent academic or medical oversight, and unknown child welfare reviews through the state of Texas for either foster/adopt subsidies, these children risk falling through the cracks,” the report reads.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, and four of their adopted children –Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; Abigail, 14; and Sierra, 12 — were killed when the family’s SUV went over a cliff in northern California last month. Jennifer was legally drunk in the driver’s seat, and police believe she drove the car over intentionally.
Devonte Hart, 15, and Hannah Hart, 16, are both still missing.
[Feature image: Thomas Boyd for The Oregonian via Associated Press]