Six children–Markis, 19; Hannah, 16; Devonte, 15; Jeremiah, 14; Abigail, 14; and Ciera, 12–were starved and abused by their adoptive parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart. The children were homeschooled. According to some reports, Devonte had disabilities.
Siblings Markis, Hannah, and Abigail were adopted from Colorado County, Texas in September 2006, and went to live with the Harts in Alexandria, Minnesota. In 2008, 6-year-old Hannah was a student at Washington Elementary School. She reported to school authorities that Jennifer had struck her arm with a belt, leaving bruises. Teachers also noticed that Hannah was hungry at school. When CPS investigated, the Harts claimed Hannah was lying. Siblings Devonte, Jeremiah, and Ciera were adopted shortly thereafter from Harris County, Texas in February 2009. Within two months of the CPS investigation, the Harts pulled the three oldest children Markis, Hannah, and Devonte out of school to homeschool them.
The children were re-enrolled in a different public school the following school year. In November 2010, Abigail (then age 6) attended Woodland Elementary School. Abigail reported to a teacher that her mother Jennifer had hit her, deprived her of food, and shoved her face underwater. Abigail showed the teacher her bruises, and the teacher called the authorities. When the Harts were interviewed, Sarah Hart confessed to beating Abigail, saying she “let her anger get out of control.” Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, although the sentence was suspended. According to the investigating officer, the Harts “didn’t like the school or that the police intervened, and they certainly didn’t like the outcome.”
Shortly after this incident, the Harts moved their family to West Linn, Oregon, and began homeschooling the children. They did not notify the district as the law required. In July 2013, the Harts stayed with a friend, Alexandra Argyropoulos, for two weeks. Argyropoulos observed that Jennifer Hart withheld food from the children and punished them for laughing by forbidding them to talk for the day. Argyropoulos reported her concerns to the police, who investigated the Harts. The children were coached to lie so the police could not gather enough evidence for a charge. The Harts were active in liberal activist causes in their local community. In 2014, Devonte became famous for a viral photo taken of him hugging a police officer; it was later revealed that Jennifer Hart had coerced him into doing so. The Harts joined presidential candidate Bernie Sanders onstage during a 2016 rally in Vancouver.
Around February 2017, uncomfortable with the media attention they had received, the family moved again to Woodland, Washington, where again they did not follow the homeschooling laws. One neighbor reported the children rarely left home and were not allowed to eat sugar. Another neighbor, Dana Dekalb, reported the children looked thin and small. According to Dekalb, one of the Hart girls had asked for help because she was afraid to go home. In another incident in mid-2017, Hannah showed up at Dekalb’s door in the middle of the night, asking Dekalb to take her away to Seattle and saying “Don’t make me go back” to her home. In March 2018, Devonte began to make regular visits to the Dekalbs’ home, asking every day for food because his parents were withholding food as punishment. He asked Dekalb not to tell his mom. Concerned, Dekalb called child services on March 23. Social workers visited the same day, but the Harts did not answer the door. Hours later, the family piled into their car and left home. On March 26, Jennifer Hart drove their car off a cliff in California, killing herself, Sarah, Markis, Abigail, Jeremiah, and Ciera. The other children are believed to have been killed as well. Sarah and the children were drugged, and Jennifer was drunk. The crash appears to have been intentional, although officials are still investigating.
Date: March 26, 2018
Location: Woodland, Washington