Devonte Hart, Boy From Viral Police Photo, Feared Dead After SUV Plunges off Cliff

Devonte Hart, the boy seen hugging a police officer during a police protest in a viral 2014 photo, is feared dead after his parents and three of his siblings were killed in a car crash in California.

On Monday, a passerby spotted a SUV belonging to Devonte's family near the Pacific Ocean. The car was balancing on its roof, at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff in rural Mendocino County. Officials said the bodies of parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found inside the car, reports NPR.

Three of their children, Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; and Abigail, 14, were found just outside the vehicle. As of Wednesday, 15-year-old Devonte is still missing. His sisters Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, are also missing.

devonte hart family
Devonte Hart (with hat) and his family. (Photo: Facebook)

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters Wednesday that they have "every indication to believe that all six children" were in the vehicle at the time of the crash. "We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy," Allman said.

Investigators are also puzzled by the cause of the crash.

According to CNN, no one reported seeing it as it happened, so authorities are not sure when exactly the crash happened. The vehicle fell from a flat, gravel-covered outcrop where tourists can stretch their legs or walk their dog, Allman said. There were no skid marks found at the scene, so how their SUV landed in the water is unknown.

The Harts and their six adopted children lived in Woodland, Washington, where they moved to about 10 months ago. The Clark County Sheriff's Office searched their home and is working with authorities in California. Neighbors said they were quiet and home-schooled.

One neighbor, Bruce DeKalb, told HLN that one of the daughters went to his house at 1:30 in the morning, asking for protection from her parents. However, when he went to drop the girl off, the Harts' house seemed normal. A week before they went missing, DeKalb said Devonte asked for food because his parents were not letting him eat as punishment.

Last Friday, DeKalb called Child Protective Services, he said. By Saturday morning, they were gone. Before moving to Washington, the Harts lived in Minnesota and Oregon. In Minnesota, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge in 2010, after she admitted to spanking one of her children.

Devonte appeared in a viral photo taken on Nov. 25, 2014 in Portland, Oregon during a protest against a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer responsible for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Devonte was seen crying in the photo while he hugged a white police officer. Jennifer Hart told The Oregonian/OregonLive they received death threats after, with the Mendocino Sheriff's Office reporting how the family moved to Washington to avoid being recognized in Oregon.

According to the Press Democrat, authorities said they are aware of the allegations against the parents, but the investigation into their deaths is still in the early stages.

0comments

"I know [Califorina Highway Patrol] is aware of some allegations" involving the children, Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney told the Press Democrat. "At this point, that's all they are: allegations."

Photo credit: Facebook/ Mendocino Sheriff's Office