By Paul Elias / Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — Human remains found on a Northern California beach belong to one of the six adopted children killed along with their parents when their mother intentionally drove their SUV off a cliff, authorities said Wednesday.
The Mendocino County sheriff’s department had trouble identifying the human remains found shortly after the March 26 crash until the biological mother of Hannah Hart, 16, called the department from Mobile, Alabama, in October. She was responding to a request from investigators for family members to come forward and help with the identification process.
The woman’s DNA sample matched the teen’s remains, the sheriff’s department said.
Only the remains of 15-year-old Devonte Hart have not been found. Nonetheless, the sheriff’s department says it believes all six children died in the crash. Devonte, who was black, drew national attention after he was photographed in tears while hugging a white police officer at a 2014 protest.
The sheriff’s department said Jennifer Hart, 38, was drunk when she intentionally drove her vehicle off California’s scenic Highway 1 and over a cliff into the ocean about 155 miles north of San Francisco. Investigators are still trying to determine a motive.
Toxicology results showed that Hart’s wife Sarah Hart, 38, and several of the children ages 12 through 19 had large amounts of a drug that can cause drowsiness in their systems.
The crash happened just days after authorities in Washington state, where the family moved in 2017 from Oregon, opened an investigation following allegations the children were being neglected.
A neighbor of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, had filed a complaint with the state, saying the children were apparently being deprived of food as punishment. No one answered when social workers checking on the report went to the family’s home near Portland, Oregon, on March 23.
Three days later, their SUV was found partially submerged on the ocean, below a rugged cliff.
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota over what she said was a spanking given to one of her children. Oregon child welfare officials also investigated the couple in 2013, but closed the case without taking any action.