SAN FRANCISCO – A family which gained attention for emotional picture of an African-American boy hugging a white police officer in 2014 a protest were killed when their SUV plunged from a scenic California highway, authorities said Wednesday as they asked for help in figuring out what happened.
“We have every indication to believe that all six children were there,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon said, appealing for tips to find out where the brothers and sisters and two parents had been before the vehicle was found Monday in a rocky ocean. “We know that an entire family disappeared and perished during this tragedy.”
Some friends described the couple, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, as a good parents who have their adopted children to Bernie Sanders rallies, while some neighbors said they called child welfare officials in their rural Washington state community on the concerns about the possible abuse or had noticed the red flags.
The California Highway Patrol has not determined why the vehicle went down an ocean view on a rugged part of the coastline. A specialized team of accident researchers was trying to find out, Allmon said.
“There were no skid marks, there were no brake marks” on the rise on the Pacific Coast Highway where the vehicle went over, the sheriff said. The researchers have no reason to believe that the crash was intentional, ” he said.
The 100-foot (31-meter) drop killed, the women, both 39, and their children Markis Heart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14. Hannah Hart, 16; Devonte Hart, 15; and Sierra Hart, 12, have not been found.
The Harts lived in a Forest, Washington, a small town outside of Portland, Oregon, and had a recent visit from Child Protective Services, Clark County sheriff ‘ s Sgt. Brent Waddell told The Associated Press.
He said the sheriff’s office later entered the house and found no obvious signs of problems or violence. It appeared the family planned a short trip because they left behind a pet, chickens and most of their possessions.
Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb said they called child services on Friday, because they were worried that Devonte Hart, who hugged the officer at the protest, went on hunger. They said that he had come to their house too often in the past week the demand for food.
The DeKalbs are also told that three months after the family moved in the house on 2 acres with a fenced pasture in May 2017, one of the girls went their doorbell at 1:30 pm
“She was at our door in a blanket and say that we need to protect her,” Bruce DeKalb said. “She said that she was abusing her. The haunted by my wife since that day.”
In 2011, Sarah Hart pled guilty to domestic assault charges in Minnesota. Her plea resulted in the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child, online court records say.
Bill Greener, 67, was a neighbor of the family when they lived in West Linn, Oregon, and said the children were home schooled.
“They stayed inside most of the time, even in the really nice weather,” Greener said.
He said that the family didn’t eat sugar, and raised their own vegetables, animals had and went on camping.
“There was enough positive there is also a little bit against the feeling that something may not be entirely good,” Greener said.
He said they were neighbors for about two years and that “privacy is a big thing for them.”
The family received attention after Devonte Hart was photographed during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
The boy, wearing a “Free Hugs” sign stood crying. A Portland officer saw his sign and asked if he could have a hug, and an emotional Heart embraced him in a picture that was widely shared.
At the time, Jennifer Hart wrote on social media: “My son has a heart of gold, compassion beyond anything I have ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police. … He wonders if someday when he no longer wears a ‘Free Hugs’ sign around his neck, as he was a fully grown black male, if his life is in danger for an ordinary man.”
The family traveled to many festivals throughout the area — including events for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — were known for wearing matching T-shirts.
Zippy Lomax, a Portland photographer who knew the Hearts, told the Oregonian/Oregonlive.com that the response to the 2014 photo flooded with negative attention focused on the multicultural family with lesbian parents.
“They kind of shut down for a while, to be honest,” Lomax told the newspaper. But she added that, “Jen and Sarah were the kind of parents this world desperately needs.”
James reported from Forest, Washington. AP reporter Steven Dubois in Portland, Oregon, and Le Phuong in Seattle has also contributed.