Hart family left shortly after child services visited, neighbor told agency
The Hart family packed up and left their home in Washington state shortly after a worker from child protective services visited, a neighbor told the department, according to a case report released Friday.
The parents and three children were found dead three days later, on March 26, after their SUV went over a cliff in California. Three other children are missing, but presumed dead.
The report and other case notes from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services gives additional details into the family’s life in Woodland.
After one of the children came by asking for food on March 23, the neighbor contacted authorities, who sent an investigator by the home late that afternoon. That first report indicated that the agency acted because it believed the “living situation is immediately dangerous or unhealthy.”
The family’s SUV was in the driveway but no one answered the front or back door. The investigator left a business card in the front door, the case notes say.
Case workers returned to the home that Monday, the 26th, but there was no answer. A deputy also checked on the residents that day, and noted another vehicle.
It was March 27, four days after the disappearance, when the neighbor told the agency that she had seen the family leave.
“It appeared the family packed up and left the home,” the agency said in its notes.
Pleading for peanut butter
According to the report, one of the now-missing children, Devonte Hart, would sneak over to a neighbor’s house and ask for them for tortillas, peanut butter, cooked meat or fruit like apples. He wanted them to leave the food in a box by a fence where his parents couldn’t see it. He begged them not to tell his moms, the report says.
The woman who reported the information said Devonte told her not to call authorities because the six children would be split up.
During one visit, Devonte said one of his mothers withheld his meal because he didn’t put food in a box the way she instructed.
The neighbor told state investigators that Devonte looked “distorted,” and his frame was “tinier than his head,” with small shoulders.
Girl said moms were racist
Devonte told the woman reporting the issues that his parents would sometimes abuse him. One of his four sisters, Hannah, told the woman’s husband that she was whipped with belts and that her mothers were racist, the report says.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart were white; their adoptive children were black.
Hannah, who is missing, was the girl who had jumped from a second-story window in the Hart home and in the middle of a fall night ran over to her neighbors, asking them to hide her. It was the first time the neighbors had seen anyone in the family, which had moved next door four months before.
The neighbors alerted the parents who came over and got Hannah, but she grew frantic and begged the neighbors to stay. Jennifer Hart pulled the girl aside and the child agreed to leave, the report said.
After the March 23 visit, investigators went back three days later. There was no SUV mention in the case notes, which says the business card from the first call was no longer in the front door.
Child Protective Services also monitored the home on March 27, unaware the family had been in a crash in Mendocino County, California.
On Wednesday, the Clark County Regional Emergency Services Agency in Washington released a 911 call in which a man talked about the late night incident with the girl asking the neighbor for a safe place. The caller was a father of a woman who lived next door to the Harts.
Officials think the three missing children were thrown from the vehicle during the crash, which appears to be intentional. The bodies may have been swept away by the ocean. But six days ago, the body of an African-American female was found near the crash site.
It could take several weeks to determine whether it’s the body of one of three children still missing after the crash because lengthy DNA analysis may be needed for identification, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office says.
Sheriff Tom Allman has described the crash as “a crime.” The vehicle appears to have left a highway for a dirt turnout, then accelerated on that turnout for about 70 feet until it went off the cliff, authorities said, citing data from the vehicle’s software and air bag module.
No skid marks were seen in the area, officials said.
Authorities have said Jennifer Hart was driving when the vehicle crashed, and Friday they announced she had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.