FOREST, Wash. – The two women and their six adopted children traveled to festivals and events, offering free hugs and the promotion of unity, friends said. They raised animals and grew vegetables and last year moved to a piece of land in rural southwest Washington, a dream of them.
The Heart-Tribe, as they were known, also took spontaneous road trips to go hiking or camping, friends and believe that they may have been on one of those adventures when their SUV plunged from a beautiful California highway.
“We know that an entire family disappeared and was killed during this tragedy,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman on Wednesday, when he calls for help investigating where the family had been before the vehicle was found on Monday.
Friends described the couple, Jennifer and Sarah Heart, loving, inspiring parents who promoted social justice and expose their ‘special children’ art, music, and nature. But the neighbors said they saw the signs that caused them to worry about how the homeschooled children were collected.
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, Allman said.
“We have no evidence and no reason to believe that this is a deliberate act,” he said, adding that the scene was confusing, because “there were no skid marks, there were no brake marks” on the side of the road rise where the vehicle went over.
Authorities believe six children were in the vehicle with their parents, three siblings not yet found.
The 100-foot (31-meter) drop killed both 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.
“This is a tragic accident of a magnitude that cannot be measured,” said Zippy Lomax, a photographer who knew the Hearts.
“They were really brilliant, warm, adventurous and inspiring people. They were always on some grand adventure, and the children were still living a life that was a kind of a dream,” Lomax told The Associated Press. “The family was self-sufficient unit that was not to be missed. When she showed up for an appointment, they made an impression. They shattered a lot of standards and they are not out of the way of controversy or adversity.”
The Hearts, who went to events such as meetings for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who often showed up in matching T-shirts.
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.
The Hearts moved to Woodland, Washington, a small town outside of Portland, Oregon, in the spring of last year, partly overwhelmed by the coverage in the media. The multi-racial family also threatened with death, Ribner said.
The family had a recent visit from state child protective services, Clark County sheriff ‘ s Sgt. Brent Waddell told the AP.
Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb said they called child services on Friday, because they were concerned about Devonte Hart, who she said had come to their house in the past week the demand for food.
Dana DeKalb said the boy told her that his parents “do not feed” and “to punish them by withholding food.” He came almost every day for a week, and asked her to eat in a box by the fence for him, ” she said.
Washington state child protective services opened an investigation on Friday and tried to make contact with the family three times since Friday, but were unable to reach them, said Norah West, a spokeswoman at the Department of Social and health services. The agency had no history with the family, ” she said.
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.”
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.
Max Ribner, who has known the family since 2012, said the accusations of the neighbors do not match what he knows about the Hearts.
“They are beautiful examples of opening arms to strangers, the help of the youth, the support of racial equality,” Ribner, who lives in Portland, told the AP. “She brought so much joy to the world. They represented a legacy of love.”
Bill Greener, 67, was a neighbor of the Harts when they lived in West Linn, Oregon, and said the children stayed inside most of the time. 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.
Le reported from Seattle. AP reporters Paul Elias in San Francisco; Steven Dubois in Portland, Oregon, and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed.