Child welfare checked on Hart home just hours before fatal plunge


On the morning of March 26, child welfare authorities in Washington state tried to reach Sarah and Jennifer Hart, a married couple with six adopted children ranging from 14 to 19. It was a third attempt with no success.

A newly released 911 call reveals how a Child Protective Services investigator asked authorities to check in on the family as well: "I've been to the home Monday and Friday and knocked on the door just this morning, and I can get no response. Different cars have been moving in and out, I noticed, so I feel like someone is there."

But they were already too late.

About five hours later, a passerby off Highway 1 in Northern California would find the Hart family's GMC Yukon 70 feet upside down along the rugged shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. The bodies of five members of the family, including Sarah and Jennifer, both 38, were discovered.

As authorities in Mendocino County try to determine why the crash occurred — and locate three missing children who are presumed dead — the 911 call may help to shed light on why police believe the fatal plunge was no accident.

More on the tragedy

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Hart family and the California cliff crash investigation
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Hart family and the California cliff crash investigation

MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA. – The California Highway Patrol (CHP), in conjunction with Sheriff Thomas Allman, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and other allied agency partners throughout Washington and Oregon is continuing an active search for missing children, Hannah Hart, age 16, Devonte Hart, age 15, and Sierra Hart, age 12.

Based upon the investigation to date, it is believed the Hart family was in or around the Newport, Oregon area around 8:15am on Saturday morning, March 24, 2018. It is believed they continued south along US 101 until they reached State Route 1 in Legget, California. The family traveled south along State Route 1 until they reached the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County around 8:00pm on Saturday evening, March 24, 2018. The family remained in the Fort Bragg, Cleone areas until approximately 9:00pm on Sunday evening, March 25, 2018. (The below map provided is the approximate route of travel.) There is no further information at this time regarding the whereabouts of the Hart Family immediately preceding the incident.

03/25/2018 at 8:05am, Jennifer Hart at the Safeway in Fort Bragg Ca. (see Photo)
Anyone with known information pertaining to the families route of travel, places where they stopped, may have come into contact with or have any information regarding the Hart Family are asked to call the California Highway Patrol – Ukiah Area office at (707) 467-4000 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086.

(Photo: CHP Ukiah)
The terrain is especially rugged along this section of the Mendocino coastline. We greatly appreciate the help of… https://t.co/zCZFqHqxBq
The search for the remaining 3 members of the #HartFamily continues https://t.co/1dujCrAii9
Thank you to all the agencies, staff (both paid and volunteer) for helping in today's efforts on the Mendocino Coas… https://t.co/tFqpveFyPi

MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA. – The California Highway Patrol (CHP), in conjunction with Sheriff Thomas Allman, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and other allied agency partners throughout Washington and Oregon is continuing an active search for missing children, Hannah Hart, age 16, Devonte Hart, age 15, and Sierra Hart, age 12.

Based upon the investigation to date, it is believed the Hart family was in or around the Newport, Oregon area around 8:15am on Saturday morning, March 24, 2018. It is believed they continued south along US 101 until they reached State Route 1 in Legget, California. The family traveled south along State Route 1 until they reached the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County around 8:00pm on Saturday evening, March 24, 2018. The family remained in the Fort Bragg, Cleone areas until approximately 9:00pm on Sunday evening, March 25, 2018. (The below map provided is the approximate route of travel.) There is no further information at this time regarding the whereabouts of the Hart Family immediately preceding the incident.

The family was traveling in a 2003 GMC Yukon LX with black rims. Similar to this vehicle in this photo (Not actual vehicle). 

Anyone with known information pertaining to the families route of travel, places where they stopped, may have come into contact with or have any information regarding the Hart Family are asked to call the California Highway Patrol – Ukiah Area office at (707) 467-4000 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086.

(Photo: CHP Ukiah)
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

NOW: Search & Rescue teams are looking in between large rocks along the Mendocino County shoreline for any sign of… https://t.co/oaR7w3VxI8
I talked to a close friend of the Hart family. She said the family was loving and she thinks they may have misjudge… https://t.co/aEsAc7bgEP
A close friend of the Hart family tells me there was nothing but love in their home. Also says all six of the kids… https://t.co/Fs5D88uiH0
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In the call, which was made public Monday, the dispatcher asked the investigator what the reason was for the welfare check on the family's home in Woodland, about 25 miles north of Portland, Oregon.

"Concerns that the children aren't being fed," the investigator responded.

After the crash, neighbors who spoke with NBC affiliate KGW and other media claimed that the children would come around asking for food because their mothers would withhold it as punishment.

"They were all small," Bruce DeKalb, who said he called Child Protective Services, told KGW. "The one girl, who was 12, looked like she was 7. Both of her teeth were missing, front teeth."

But the Harts "told us what we wanted to hear," DeKalb said. "Life went on for another eight months, and here we are today."

Other past child abuse allegations have surfaced from neighbors near the family's former home in Oregon. And while living in Minnesota in 2011, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge in connection to one of the daughters, Abigail, court records show.

Police said they believe the Harts — known for taking random excursions — already left for their California trip on March 24. Jennifer Hart was seen on surveillance footage buying groceries at a Safeway in Fort Bragg, about 15 miles south of where the SUV was located, on March 25.

Still missing from the crash are children Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, and Sierra, 15. Devonte, a black youth, gained national attention in 2014 in a photograph of him crying while hugging a white police officer during a Portland rally.

A search and rescue operation in the area of the crash continued this week to find the children.

Meanwhile, a body was found Saturday "in the vicinity" of the site that appears to be of a black female, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. An autopsy is pending to determine the age and a positive identification.

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