SAN FRANCISCO – A family that attracted attention for an emotional photo of an African-American boy hugging a white policeman at a 2014 protest was killed when their SUV crashed from a California scenic highway, authorities said Wednesday as they Ask for Assistance
"We have every reason to believe that all six children were there," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon said, asking for clues to find out where the siblings and two parents had been before the vehicle left Monday was found in the rocky ocean. "We know that a whole family disappeared during this tragedy and died."
Some friends described the married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart as good parents leading their adopted children to Bernie Sanders rallies, while some neighbors said they called child safety officers to their rural Washington community for misuse concerns or red flags.
The California Highway Patrol has not determined why the vehicle was overlooked by an ocean on a rugged part of the coast. A specialized team of accident analysts tried to find out, Allmon said.
"There were no skid marks, there were no skid marks" at the exit on the Pacific Coast Highway, where the vehicle drove over, the sheriff said. The investigators have no reason to believe that the crash was intentional, he said.
The Harts lived in Woodland, Washington, a small town outside of Portland, Oregon, and had recently visited Child Protective Services, Clark County Sheriff Sgt. Brent Waddell told The Associated Press.
He said the sheriff's office later entered the house and found no obvious signs of anger or violence. It seemed that the family was planning a short trip because they had left behind a pet, chickens and most of their belongings.
Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb said they called childcare services on Friday because they were worried that Devonte Hart was embracing officer in the protest, becoming hungry. They said he had come to their homes too many times last week to ask for food.
The DeKalbs also told the family three months after the family moved into 2 acres with a fenced pasture in May 2017. The girls rang the doorbell at 1:30 in the morning.
She "stood in a blanket outside our door and said we needed to protect her," said Bruce DeKalb. "She said she was abusing her, he persecuted my wife since that day."
In 2011, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault in Minnesota. Their allegation led to the dismissal of an indictment for malicious punishment of a child, according to online court documents.
Bill Groener, 67, was a neighbor of the family when he lived in West Linn, Oregon, and said children were taught at home.
"They stayed in most of the time, even in really nice weather," Groener said.
He said the family did not eat sugar, raised their own vegetables, had animals and left on camping trips
"There were enough positive things to somehow counteract the feeling that something was not quite right," he said Groener.
He said they have been neighbors for about two years and that is "privacy" a big deal for them.
The family caught attention after Devonte Hart was photographed during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, after the jury decided not to prosecute a police officer shooting a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
The boy holding a "Free Hugs" sign stood there crying, a Portland officer saw his shield and asked if he could have a hug, and an emotional hard hugged him in a picture that was widely used.
At the time, Jennifer Hart wrote on social media: "My son has a heart of gold, compassion beyond anything I've ever experienced, yet struggling with a fearless life when it comes to the police. … He wonders if one day, when he's a full-grown black man, he will not wear a "Free Hugs" sign around his neck when his life is in danger of being just.
The family traveled to many festivals in the area – including events for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – and were known to wear matching T-shirts.
Zippy Lomax, a Portland photographer who knew the Harts The Oregonian / Oregonlive.com said that the response to the photo of 2014 overwhelmed her, with negative attention focused on the multiethnic family with lesbian parents.
"They have somehow closed for a while, honestly" Lomax told the newspaper, but she added, "Jen and Sarah were the kind of parents who desperately need this world."