Last month we looked at the case of the Turpin family and the abuse of their 13 children, this week we’re going to take a look at a similar case that came to a devastating end- the story of the Hart family.
The matriarchs of the Hart family, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, who were both 38 years old, adopted a total of six children into their family whom neighbors and acquaintances claim were mistreated, underfed, assaulted and punished regularly. Careful social media crafting hid the pain of the Hart children and the alleged dark nature of their adoptive parents.
In pictures posted to the family Facebook account, the kids seemed joyful and vibrant. The family looks like a kind and loving middle class family who spent time outdoors in nature and at rallies for racial equality and environmental issues. But those who knew the Hart family in real life claim the images were staged, and told reporters that after posing with smiles on their faces for a few snap shots, the Hart children would go back to looking lifeless and depressed. Descriptions of those who knew the family usually revolve around adjectives belonging to the same semantic field- robotic, sad, lethargic, emotionless, underfed, and highly disciplined. According to one neighbor the children were even seen to walk in single file like a tiny troop of soldiers.
Articles about the case tell of classmates seeing one of the Hart girls rummaging through the trash in search of food and one kid showing up to school Dalmatian with bruises thought to be inflicted by her own parents.
In many articles online an accusatory finger of blame is pointed in the direction of Jennifer Hart, whom neighbors say not only abused her own adopted kids, but controlled her partner, Sarah.
Despite being reported to Child protective services multiple times over the years, the Hart children were never taken out of the care of their adoptive parents. Neighbors claim the children often came over asking for food and told stories of being starved at home. One of the kids even admitted that their mothers were racist towards them. The Hart children were black and their mothers Caucasian.
An online search for court documents related to Sarah Hart and Jennifer Hart turns up the following file:
The two women were called into the local police station in Douglas County, Minnesota in late 2010 after a teacher at Woodland elementary school contacted the authorities and alerted them to a possible case of abuse. One of her students, referred to as “A.H” in the document (whom we can assume is Abigail Hart), confided in the teacher that her mother had hit her. She lifted her shirt to reveal bruises from her breastbone to her bellybutton and her shoulders to her lower back. Photographs were taken as evidence and handed over to the police.
Sarah confessed to delivering a “Spanking” to her adopted daughter, a punishment which she said was unusual in their household. She claimed that she had bent the child over the bathtub to give out the physical punishment and confessed that she “let her anger get out of control”.
When interviewed Abigail told officers that Sarah had hit her with a closed fist, and not an open palm as Sarah Hart claimed. Abigail said Hart then proceeded to hold her head underwater in the bathtub. She informed police that Jennifer gave out most of the punishments. When interviewed an unnamed female child and sibling of Abigail denied the assault happened, however Abigail did have visible marks on her body and claimed the punishment was given in private.
Sarah Hart was charged with the malicious punishment of a child and domestic assault.
The entire document can be viewed HERE <<
Jennifer eventually took the kids out of school in favor of homeschooling them. If we think back to the Turpin case we can see that David Turpin took the same action when the disheveled and malnourished appearance of his abused children was attracting too much attention from outside authorities. Turpin registered a private school, “the sandcastle day school”, to his home address in Perris, California, of which his children were the only students and he, the principle. This enabled the Turpin parents to mistreat their children without interference.
In a household in which there exists the abuse of children or a domestic partner, there normally exists control tactics isolation- for example a domestic partner may not be allowed to seek education or employment, which has an effect on their interaction with “outsiders” and also restricts their finances. These methods of absolute control take away any hope of the victim escaping their abusive situation and also deprives them of the means to do so. Homeschooling the Hart kids took away any opportunity for outsiders to report Jennifer and Sarah Hart for any further abuse- a decision that afforded them zero interference in their campaign of excessive control against their own children. The police officer who interviewed the couple regarding the abuse claims in 2010 said that he noticed Sarah and Jennifer recoiled at the sight of him and appeared to exhibit what he felt was a disdain for outside authorities such as the police department and the school.
A search pertaining to information regarding the incident that lead Sarah Hart to physically assault Abigail that night turned up several articles online. Apparently the incident was sparked by the discovery of a penny in the little girl’s pocket. Sarah demanded to know how the child acquired the penny and was unhappy with the explanation that she had simply found it. The child was then punished for lying.
This article in the Seattle times describes how Sarah and Jennifer were reported multiple times by multiple people but the children were never taken out of their care. CPS did in fact interview the parents at one point but a document states there was “insufficient evidence” to back up the complaints.
In 2013 the children went through medical examinations where they were reported to be underweight and small in height for their age. The doctor who gave them their medical examination did not find this alarming. The fact that every one of the children was stunted growth-wise gives weight to the accusations that Jennifer and Sarah were overly strict with food, allowing the kids to go hungry, using restriction as a punishment and controlling their general food intake with a startling discipline.
This article details a disturbing statement from a school nurse describing an incident where Sarah Hart forced a fistful of banana and nuts into Hannah Harts mouth. Hannah had complained of hunger pains to the nurse and an angry Sarah was called in to the school. Sarah seemed to have a particular vendetta again Hannah as she seems to have singled her out on more than one occasion for punishments.
Hannah ran to a neighbor’s house in the summer of 2017 to alert them of the abuse she said she was suffering at the hands of her parents. She confided in the neighbor that she was being abused and said she needed help.
This article stated that Devonte also went to a neighbors asking for food on more than one occasion, stating he was denied food at his own home. He asked them to call the authorities and even checked if they had done so by returning the following day to ask. Bruce DeKalb and his wife reported the mothers to CPS on the 23rd of March 2018, and although CPS attempted to reach the Harts at their residence, their visits went unanswered.
Several days later on the 26th of March 2018 the Hart families SUV was driven off a cliff on (CA-1) the pacific coast highway in Northern California.
The pacific coast highway stretches from San Francisco to San Diego and is well traveled by those looking to take in the 600 miles of picturesque scenery the highway has to offer.
Both Jennifer and Sarah were found dead along with 4 of their adopted children, Sierra,12, Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14 and Abigail, also 14.
16 year old Hannah and 15 year old Devonte have not been found or recovered, however a skeletonised foot found in a small shoe (5.5) tangled in a pair of girls jeans washed up onto the beach recently. They remains are currently being tested.
Jennifer was in the drivers seat with Sarah riding shotgun. The deceased children were found outside of the vehicle, evidently thrown from it on impact. Tire tracks left behind illustrate the final moments before the crash. It appeared that the vehicle had pulled into a layby before driving down a long stretch of road that lead towards the cliffs edge from which the Hart families vehicle hurtled 100ft down towards the blue ocean crashing over the jagged rocks below.
This report in Time magazine reveals that a component found in the antihistamine Benadryl was found in the system of the deceased children as well as Jennifer and her partner Sarah. Jennifer’s blood alcohol level was found to be .102 indicating that she was actually intoxicated at the time of the crash.
16 year old Hannah Hart and 15 year old Devonte Hart have not yet been located. Investigators believe they may also have been passengers in the vehicle and are likely dead, although no remains have been found.
If Devonte Hart looks familiar to you it may be because you have seen him as the subject of a viral image that circulated the internet in 2014. In the photograph a police officer is hugging a child at a rally in Oregon. That child is Devonte Hart. In the image he is dressed in a tan colored jacket hugging an officer with tears rolling down his face.
A friend of the Hart couple, Nusheen Bakhtiar, said the family received death threats after the image went viral and that Jennifer became extremely depressed. Messages between the two talk about how 2017 was the most difficult day of her life. The article states that Bakhtiar is a close friend of Jennifer. Although it seems as though they were acquaintances who met at a music event and ran into each other at events and kept in touch online.
The search for Devonte and Hannah continues.
Investigators are currently searching the family home for evidence that could help them understand what happened.