Missing dogs raise more questions about Hart family murder-suicide investigation

Hannah Hart and Devonte Hart are still missing, more than a month after their family members were found dead at the bottom of a cliff

Two dogs belonging to the Hart family remain unaccounted for, over a month after Jennifer and Sarah Hart and four of their six adopted children were killed in an apparent murder-suicide.

Authorities believe that Jennifer Hart intentionally drove her family over a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway on March 26. The mothers and four of their six adopted children — Markis, 19; Abigail, 14; Jeremiah, 14; and Sierra, 12 — have been found dead at or near the crash site. Devonte Hart, 15; and Hannah Hart, 16, are still missing.

Earlier this week, an FBI spokesperson confirmed to CrimeOnline that the agency is assisting in an active search for the missing children, but said she could not provide further specifics about the search area. Representatives from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, the lead investigating agency, told CrimeOnline in early April that authorities believed Devonte and Hannah were likely in the car because the family typically traveled together, and they had found no indication that the still-missing children had separated from their family before the fatal SUV plunge. Also at that time, authorities had not found any physical evidence indicating that the missing children were in the car.

More recent reporting has revealed that Jennifer Hart often traveled with the children on long road trips while Sarah Hart stayed behind to work. Sarah Hart also moved to Oregon from Minnesota six months before the rest of the family would arrive in April 2013, according to The Oregonian.

In an interview with KOIN on Thursday,┬áMendocino County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Captain Gregory Van Patten reportedly said that authorities are continuing “shoreline searches” for the missing Hart children, and that the searches are taking place daily as long as enough resources are available.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Devonte Hart went to a neighbor’s home to ask for food repeatedly during the weeks leading up to the tragedy. Those neighbors, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, finally called Child Protective Services on Friday, March 23, and a representative reportedly visited the home that same day. No one answered the door, and by the next morning, the Harts were gone.

According to the KOIN 6 report, no dogs were found left behind at the Hart home, although authorities found evidence that two dogs lived in the home when they searched the house on March 27. No food had been left out for them. Other animals, including chickens and a cat, had been left behind.

A friend of the family who requested anonymity told CrimeOnline in a Facebook message on Friday that she assumes the Harts took the two dogs with them when they left Woodland sometime on March 23 or March 24. She said she believes Devonte and Hannah were in the car at the time of the crash for the same reason cited by authorities — that the family always traveled together, with the exception of Sarah when she had to work, the friend noted. She also said the Harts frequently brought their two dogs with them on their road trips.

Captain Van Patten told KOIN 6 that authorities did not find any animals or animal remains at the crash site. Sarah and Jennifer Hart, both 38, were found dead in the SUV; and Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail were all found near the car on the same day it is believed to have gone over the cliff. Sierra Hart, whose legal name is Ciera, was found in the water not far from the crash site two weeks later. Jennifer Hart was legally drunk at the time of the suspected murder-suicide, and Sarah and two of the children initially recovered from the scene were found to have high levels of the active drug in Benadryl, which causes drowsiness, in their system.

The results of toxicology tests performed on the third child recovered from the crash and Sierra Hart are still pending, according to Captain Van Patten’s interview with KOIN 6 on Thursday,

The friend said she last communicated with Jennifer Hart via messaging in March, and that Jen seemed fine at the time. She also said she has been interviewed by the FBI about her relationship and correspondence with the family.

On April 6, Captain Van Patten told CrimeOnline that authorities had placed a hold on the remains of the recovered family members, and would not be releasing the remains to family at that time. Earlier this week, Captain Van Patten confirmed in an email that authorities had “released the remains of the found members of the Hart family after it was determine[d] there was no longer a need to have a hold place on their remains.”

Van Patten did not immediately respond to a follow-up request, prompted by the latest report regarding the pending toxicology tests, asking him to confirm that the remains of all the recovered family members had been released. CrimeOnline has also requested an interview with Dana DeKalb, who has not yet responded to our inquiry.



[Feature image: Tristan Fortsch/KATU News via AP, File]