As protesters and police clashed over the weekend in response to the death of George Floyd, a photo of a young black boy hugging a white police officer resurfaced over the weekend as a call for peace. The image, taken in the middle of a Ferguson-related demonstration in Portland, Oregon, and at first lauded as a touching example of how police and citizens should interact, actually holds a much darker and much more somber truth. The boy — 12-year-old Devonte Hart — and his five siblings were killed after their adoptive mothers drove their SUV off a cliff after years of alleged abuse.
If you see either of these images being shared in order to make peace, please know that this child was forced into pictures by abusive parents then later killed by them in a car crash along with his 5 adoptive siblings. His name is Devonte Hart. pic.twitter.com/VAM4f5xJe8— Noah 💌 | Black Lives Matter ✊🏿 (@FatherBredAD) June 1, 2020
The image, in which Hart, wearing a brown leather jacket and crying, was taken on Nov. 25, 2014, in Portland 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. In one image, Hart could be seen holding a sign reading, "Free Hugs" before Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum approached him "not as a police officer but just a human being" and extended his hand when he saw him crying, according to CNN. The moment eventually led to the now-iconic photo of Hart and Barnum embracing. Photographed by freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen, the image went viral and was dubbed by the Oregonian "the hug shared around the world," but less than four years later, Hart, his siblings, and their adoptive mothers, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, would all be dead.
After the image, which many have stated was staged and forced by Hart's parents, the Hart family moved to Woodland, Washington. Although neighbors said the six children were quiet and home-schooled, shortly after their move, the children began going to their neighbor, Bruce DeKalb, in the middle of the night seeking food and protection from their white adoptive parents and complained of racist behavior, CNN reports. A week before they went missing, DeKalb said Devonte asked for food because his parents were not letting him eat as punishment. DeKalb eventually called Child Protective Services, though before CPS could check on the children, the family was gone.
The alleged abuse, however, had stretched further back than their move to Washington. Prior to moving, the family had 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. Other reports had also been made.
In March of 2018, Jennifer, who was drunk, drove the family's SUV off a 100-foot Pacific coast cliff. All eight members of the family were killed, with Hart’s body never being found. A coroner's jury later unanimously ruled that Jennifer and Sarah intended to kill all six of their children and themselves and that the crash had not been accidental.