What happened with the Harts on the California cliff?

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WOODLAND, Wash. (KOIN) — The mystery of what happened to the Hart family continues to slowly unfold as investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to the 8 people who were inside a GMC SUV when it plunged off a California cliff and into the ocean around March 26.

Sarah and Jennifer Hart and 3 of their adopted children — 19-year-old Markis, 14-year-old Jeremiah and 14-year-old Abigail — were confirmed dead on Wednesday by Mendocino County (California) authorities. Three other children — 15-year-old Devonte, 16-year-old Hannah and 12-year-old Sierra — are missing. But Sheriff Tom Allman said there is “every indication” all 6 children were inside the SUV at the time.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart in an undated photo. (Courtesy photo to KOIN)

Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, recently moved to Woodland, Washington from West Linn, where they had lived since 2014. Jennifer was driving at the time of the crash.

In 2010 when they lived in Minnesota, Sarah Hart was arrested and later convicted of a gross misdemeanor for hitting one of the children, who was 6 at the time. She served a year on probation.

The court documents revealed a teacher noticed bruises on the child’s back and stomach after the child said her mom had hit her. She also said her mom wouldn’t give them lunch when they were grounded.

In talking with police, Sarah Hart said the kids always got food but admitted spanking her daughter the day before and that it got out of control.

The police report said “that her mom had put her in the bathtub and turned on cold water and then hit her…also stated that her mom had hit her with a fist. When asked what she had done to make her mom mad, (the child) said that she had a penny in her pocket and that this made her mom mad.”

 

Detective Sgt. Larry Dailey of the Alexandria, Minnesota police told KOIN 6 News the Harts talked with the police on their own accord but left him with the impression they thought there was a lot being made over just regular parental discipline.

Investigators in California search the area where a family from Woodland, Wash. crashed over a cliff. (KRON) 

Later, the Harts left Minnesota and moved to Oregon, settling in West Linn. There, they homeschooled their children.

In late 2017, they moved to Woodland, where 2 of the children reached out to neighbors Bruce and Dana Dekalb.

“Their daughters telling us, ‘Please, please, please,’ begging us not to make her go back and that they were abusing her,” Dana Dekalb said. “And then Devonte telling us he’s being starved to death.”

The Dekalbs called Child Protective Services, who visited the family 3 times in the days before the crash — but never made contact with the Harts.

After news of the crash, the Dekalbs got a phone call from someone who said he knew the Harts from Minnesota.The friend told the Dekalbs he thought they had unfairly targeted the Harts, perhaps out of bigotry.

KOIN 6 News contacted that person — who would only identify himself as “a close friend of the Hart family from Minnesota.” He said the Harts were a wholesome, loving family who overcame a lot of adversity. If they were abusive, the friends would have known, he said. 

Asked if he knew Sarah had been convicted of domestic assault in Minnesota, the “close friend of the Hart family from Minnesota” said he just learned about it from media reports, but that everybody makes mistakes.

And, he added, those who knew the Harts will remember them as great people.

The investigation continues.

A CBS News animation shows the Hart family SUV on its path to plunging off a cliff in California, killing 5 people. Three more are missing, March 29, 2018 (KOIN)

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