Did family intentionally drive off a cliff killing their children?
In a sad turn of events, police now say that an accident that killed a family who veered off a California cliff in their SUV, may have been a deliberant act.
CNN reports that preliminary information says that the vehicle’s air bag module and software from the vehicle suggest that the car accelerated off the road, said Greg Baarts, acting assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol’s Northern Division.
“At this point in our investigation, that is the direction we are going,” Baarts said.
Inside the vehicle was a young Black boy, Devonte Hart, who became the poster child for peace after a photo of him hugging a police officer during the 2014 Ferguson protests went viral.
Baarts said there was approximately 70 feet of continuous acceleration from the last moment the brakes were applied before the SUV went over and hit the ocean floor.
Police discovered the SUV belonging to Jennifer and Sarah Hart at the bottom of a northern California cliff and found the two women dead along with three of their adopted children. Three additional adopted children are missing, leaving the police unsure if they are also among the dead.
“We have every indication to believe that all six children were in [in the SUV],” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. “We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy.”
Allmon told reporters Hannah Hart, 16 and Devonte and Sierra Hart, 12 were inside the vehicle when it fell 100 feet off an ocean overlook and landed at the bottom of the cliff near the Pacific Ocean. Their bodies are still missing. The bodies of the other children Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14, were recovered outside the vehicle.
The hug shared around the world
Devonte Hart became an internet sensation when a photo of him holding a sign offering “Free Hugs” during a Ferguson protest after a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson went viral. Hart’s tearful face caught the attention of Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum who approached the crying boy and gave him a much-needed hug. Barnum said he approached Devonte “not as a police officer but just a human being” when he saw him crying.
The moving moment was captured by the Oregonian newspaper and within hours of the photo being published, it went viral, leading the Oregonian to call it “the hug shared around the world.”
Some friends describe the family that took in Devonte Hart as loving, inspiring and keenly aware of social justice, but other say there were signs of problems. Neighbors report that child welfare services were called as recently as Friday over concerns about the children and whether they were being fed.
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Bruce and Dana DeKalb, who live next to the Hart’s said the kids had come to their home several times asking for food. Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell confirmed to The Associated Press, that Child welfare officials did make a recent visit to the residence.
Bruce also recounted a story saying that one of the girls rang his bell at 1:30 a.m. about three months ago, begging for help and saying she had been abused. She “was at our door in a blanket saying we need to protect her. She said they were abusing her,” said Bruce.
Court records also revealed that Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota. After her plea, the Associated Press reports that a charge for malicious punishment of a child was reportedly dismissed.