New documents released by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) have revealed previously unreported details about the adoption of the Hart children and abuse allegations against their mothers, Jennifer and Sarah Hart.
The records show that in 2013, Oregon DHS became aware of six reports made to Minnesota Child Protective Services between 2010-2011, including one that resulted in Sarah Hart pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse. Two witnesses reportedly contacted Oregon DHS with concerns about the welfare of the six adopted Hart children, and one alerted them to an open case in Minnesota, where the family lived before they moved to West Linn, Oregon. They Harts later moved to Woodland, Washington, where they were living at the time of the fatal SUV plunge that killed six of the eight family members.
Four of the children — Markis, Sierra, Abigail, and Jeremiah — were killed with their mothers in an apparent murder-suicide last month. Jennifer Hart is believed to have intentionally driven the family’s SUV over a cliff in northern California. Devonte Hart and Hannah Hart are still missing.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, a former friend of the Hart’s contacted Oregon DHS after she witnessed Jennifer Hart harshly punish her children when some pizza went missing from the refrigerator overnight during a sleepover at the friend’s home. The documents have also revealed that Jennifer allegedly denied all of the children breakfast the next morning when none of them admitted to taking pizza from the refrigerator.
Allegations that Jennifer and Sarah Hart withheld food from their adopted children have come up again and again in the weeks since six members of the family were found dead at the bottom of a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway. The Oregon DHS report appears to confirm that food deprivation was a regular source of stress for the children.
The DHS report is based on two witness accounts and records obtained from Minnesota Child Protective Services. One witness reportedly told Oregon DHS that “the children would eat freely if [Jennifer Hart] was not around, but as soon as she came in, they would stop and deny they ate.”
Multiple reports indicate that Jennifer and Sarah Hart blamed the children’s food-seeking behavior on developmental challenges purportedly stemming from their early childhood with their biological families. According to DHS interviews with a doctor who examined the children, all but Jeremiah Hart were below the average height and weight levels for their age. Jennifer Hart reportedly told a friend that Hannah Hart was “morbidly obese” when she was adopted.
The Oregonian published photographs of the children that Jennifer Hart posted to her Facebook page in 2006, the year that Hannah Hart and her two biological siblings were adopted. The girl appears slender in the photographs. At least two sources who met Hannah Hart have said in media interviews they believed she was years younger than her actual age based on her size.
According to the DHS report, a witness observed that Markis Hart, the eldest of the children, was targeted while Devonte Hart was favored. At one time, “Markis made a strange comment about waiting until everyone else ate to see if there was anything left,” the report states.
Jennifer Hart reportedly told a friend that Markis had once tried to kill her, and that Devonte “saved her.” There is no indication that the Harts contacted authorities about the purported incident. When Oregon DHS caseworkers interviewed each of the children following a referral in 2013, none of them made reference to earlier allegations of abuse or neglect, despite six reports fielded by social services in Minnesota.
“The children provided nearly identical answers to all questions asked,” the Oregon DHS report states. “All of the children, except Devonte, appeared very reserved and showed little emotion or animation.”
The six Hart children were born in Texas and adopted as two biological sibling groups in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Little is known about the Markis, Hannah, and Abigail’s biological family, and Texas adoption records are sealed. Devonte, Jeremiah, and Sierra — whose legal name is Ciera — were reportedly born to a drug-addicted mother. As CrimeOnline previously reported, their biological aunt petitioned to adopt them but was denied custody after their biological mother made an unauthorized visit to the home when the aunt was not present.
According to the Oregon DHS report, Jennifer and Sarah Hart appear to have worked with a Minnesota-based agency called the Permanent Family Resource Center to handle the out-of-state adoptions.
“Texas seems to do a number of adoptions through this agency,” the report states, “even when the Child Welfare service does not support the placement.”
The agency is no longer in operation.
[Feature image: Tristan Fortsch/KATU News via AP, File]