PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — New documents were released Tuesday from Clark County investigators related to the deaths of a Washington family whose disappearance gripped the country this spring.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and their six adopted children, disappeared from their Woodland home in late March – shortly after a Washington Child Protective Services caseworker tried to contact the women at home. Neighbors had called CPS, concerned that the children were being abused and neglected.
The Hart family’s SUV was soon after found crashed off a northern California cliff in Mendocino county, killing the couple and four of the children. Jennifer Hart, who was driving at the time of the crash, was under the influence of alcohol, while some of the children had a Benadryl-type drug in their system that causes drowsiness. Two of the six kids, Devonte and Hannah, remain missing.
KOIN 6’s reporting following the crash revealed the family left behind a trail of child abuse concerns in three states, including Washington. Oregon investigated the family in 2013, and ruled that while there were some indications of abuse or neglect, there was insufficient data to conclude child abuse or neglect had occurred. In Minnesota, where the Harts lived while they adopted the six children, Sarah Hart was found guilty of misdemeanor domestic assault in 2010, after daughter Abigail complained of abuse.
The documents provided to KOIN 6 News on Tuesday raise new questions about what was happening with the family behind closed doors.
After adopting Markis, Abigail, and Hannah Hart in 2006, the Harts looked to continue growing their family through adoption. A 2007 document filed by a Minnesota adoption worker indicated that while the Harts had initially wanted to adopt only three more children, they changed their minds and were open to considering sibling groups of up to five kids – which would have meant eight adopted children in total.
Before the adoption of Jeremiah, Sierra, and Devonte in 2009, a Texas adoption caseworker wrote a glowing letter about the couple, calling them “open, loving, and understanding.” The caseworker said Markis, Hannah, and Abigail had blossomed in the family’s home.
“I would have no problem placing kids of any age, race, or sex in this home because I know they would be loved and cared for beyond anything I could hope to have for them,” the caseworker wrote. She called herself a friend, adding that she would “highly recommend” them to anyone seeking an adoptive family for children.
And even after the adoption of Markis, Hannah and Abigail made the Harts a family of eight, the couple looked to continue growing their brood.
The documents, which include emails retrieved from the couple’s Apple laptop, include an email from Jennifer Hart to a friend in March 2009, saying that Sarah Hart was trying to get pregnant, using donor sperm.
In an email to another friend later that year, in July, Jennifer Hart revealed that Sarah Hart was pregnant, but that the doctor couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. The couple ended up losing the baby.
“I don’t know what else to say really….now we just take it one day at a time,” Jennifer Hart wrote.
One year later, an email retrieved from the couple’s computer revealed marital challenges. Jennifer Hart confided in a friend that things at home were “very rollercoasterish” and that Sarah Hart had recently said some hurtful things.
“For quite some time I have felt very under appreciated, and taken for granted in our relationship…and at times unloved,” Jennifer Hart wrote. “While I know deep in my heart how much she loves me….she is just horrible about showing it.”
Jennifer Hart also complained about Sarah’s role as a parent.
“As a mom, I have felt that I have been raising the kids on my own. The admits this too [sic]. While she loves them with all her heart, she has not been fully present with me or the kids,” she wrote.
In the email, Jennifer Hart added that she was trying to get Sarah Hart to understand that she needed a “break.” It wasn’t immediately clear from the email whether Jennifer Hart was referring to a break from caring for the children or from the couple’s relationship, though one friend who reported the family to Oregon DHS in 2013 said that Jennifer Hart had talked about wanting to leave Sarah Hart to be with her.
That same friend, however, described Jennifer Hart as “manipulative” and “quite controlling” in her relationship with Sarah Hart, and believed that Jennifer Hart seemed delusional.