‘I can’t explain it’: Foundation director who knew missing Devonte Hart’s family says she has no idea why Jennifer Hart drove off a cliff

A non-profit executive who knew Jennifer and Sarah Hart and their children said she saw no signs of trouble during her interactions with the family.

Jennifer Hart is believed to have driven herself, her wife Sarah, and four of their adopted children over a cliff in northern California in late March, killing them all. Two of the children, 15-year-old Devonte Hart and 16-year-old Hannah Hart, are still missing.

Devonte became well-known in 2014 after a photo of him in a tearful embrace with a Portland police officer at a demonstration to support the Ferguson anti-police brutality protests went viral.

In this Nov. 25, 2014, file photo provided by Johnny Nguyen, Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in Portland, Ore., where people had gathered in support of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. The SUV carrying the Hart family, from Woodland, Wash., that plunged off a coastal cliff near Mendocino, Calif., recently, killing all passengers, accelerated straight off the cliff and authorities said the deadly wreck may have been intentional. (Johnny Huu Nguyen via AP, File)

In the days leading up to the family’s disappearance, a neighbor of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, said that Devonte came to her home begging for food, claiming that his parents were withholding food as punishment.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Jennifer Hart maintained an active social media presence and frequently posted photos of her children at various events. In some of the photos, Devonte Hart is seen carrying signs seeking donations for charitable causes. In one, Devonte stands on a stage next to two oversized checks made out to Honor the Earth foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting environmental issues affecting Native Americans.

CrimeOnline contacted Honor the Earth to confirm that the Harts donated the money raised to the foundation. Activist and Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke responded by phone on Wednesday, explaining that she had personally known the Hart family. Asked if she had ever seen signs of trouble, LaDuke said she “had only pleasant experiences” with them.

“I have no idea why that happened,” she said, referring to the apparent murder-suicide. “It broke my heart.”

LaDuke said she had shared a meal in Portland with the Hart family sometime after Devonte’s photo went viral, but before they moved to Woodland in May 2017. She noted that they met in a public place for a meal, and that she did not go to their home. All of the children seemed happy, she said, and there were no indications they were not eating properly.

“They ate just like a normal family,” LaDuke said, and none of the children seemed to be ravenous.

Medical records obtained by the Oregonian found that five of the six Hart children did not place anywhere on height and weight charts for children their age. When the family was living in Minnesota, both Abigail and Hannah Hart were observed scavenging for food at school. And a friend who knew the family in Oregon called the Department of Human Services to report what she observed as a harsh punishment over missing pizza during a sleepover at her home. When the friend noticed that someone had taken leftover pizza from the refrigerator overnight, she said that Jennifer Hart forced all of the children to lie still on a mattress for several hours because none of them admitted to taking the food.

“I don’t want to be party to anything disparaging about the Harts,” LaDuke said, echoing the sentiment of those who knew the Hart family as part of a community that met at music festivals in the midwest and the Pacific Northwest. The musical group Nahko and Medicine for the People appear to have been regular performers at festivals attended by the Harts, and Nahko is seen in numerous photographs with the family that have appeared on social media. LaDuke said that Nahko is on the board of Honor the Earth. CrimeOnline has attempted to reach Nahko, but he has not replied to requests for an interview.

LaDuke said that she can vouch for the fact that the Harts gave the foundation at least $1,500 in donations raised by Devonte. She said that the money was given to her personally, in cash, and that she could not at this time prioritize obtaining records of the donations.

“We’re very grateful,” LaDuke said, adding that she was planning to acknowledge the Hart family and their contributions in Honor the Earth’s year-end report.

Asked if she had any idea what might have led Jennifer to drive her family over a cliff, LaDuke was at a loss.

“I can’t explain it,” she said.

[Feature image: The Hart Family/ Thomas Boyd for The Oregonian via AP]