Search continues for three missing Hart children after deadly California crash
MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. — Mendocino County Officials continued their search Saturday for three missing kids from Woodland, Washington.
Investigators believe Devonte, Sierra and Hannah Hart were in the SUV that careened over a cliffside and into the ocean earlier this week.
Rescuers found the bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart, as well as three other children: Markis, Abigail and Jeremiah.
The Hart family was a free-spirited brood from Washington state who grew their own food and took up activist causes.
The multiracial family of two married women and six adopted children took spontaneous road trips to camp and hike and traveled to festivals and other events, offering hugs and promoting unity.
One of the children, Devonte Hart, drew national attention when the black youngster was photographed hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. Devonte was holding a "Free Hugs" sign.
A passing motorist discovered the wreck Monday, three days after social service authorities opened an investigation apparently prompted by a neighbor's complaint that the children were being deprived of food.
A state caseworker went to the Harts' house in Woodland, Washington, on March 23 but didn't find anyone home, officials said. The Department of Social and Health Services had no prior history with the family, said Norah West, an agency spokeswoman.
Bruce and Dana DeKalb, next-door neighbors of the Harts, said they called child protective services because 15-year-old Devonte had been coming over to their house almost every day for a week, asking for food.
Dana DeKalb said Devonte told her his parents were "punishing them by withholding food." The boy asked her to leave food in a box by the fence for him, she said.
Well before the wreck, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Douglas County, Minnesota, telling authorities "she let her anger get out of control" while spanking her 6-year-old adoptive daughter, court records show.
Authorities in Washington state searched the family's home Thursday. The Clark County sheriff's office said deputies were looking for bills or anything else that could shed light on why the family left and other circumstances related to the trip.
Family friend Max Ribner took issue with the notion the wreck was something other than a tragic accident. The couple adopted many of their children from "hard backgrounds," he said. "They transformed these kids' lives."