On March 26, Devonte Hart, his five siblings and his adoptive parents were allegedly in an SUV that went off a cliff in Northern California. His adoptive parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 39, and three of the children, Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14, have all been reported dead. Their three other adopted children are missing, 16-year-old Hannah Hart, 12-year-old Sierra Hart and 15-year-old Devonte, who is known for a viral photo in which he is hugging a police officer in November 2014, are missing. However, a body of a Black female was found, which authorities believe is Hannah or Sierra, but are awaiting the result of an autopsy. The family lived in Woodland, Washington, near Portland, Oregon, and were reportedly on a road trip, though Child Protective Services had been trying to reach them for days.
There have been countless reports of abuse and this latest one is even more disturbing. CNN.com reports, back in November a neighbor called 911. “‘They have 4 black children but that part doesn’t matter,’ he told dispatch. ‘They’re new here, Texas, but the other night, a little girl jumped out of the second story window on the roof and then down to the ground and then ran to my daughter and this is like 2 in the morning, begging them to help her.’ He said the girl cried and begged his daughter not to let her parents know that she was there. They were notified and one of the parents came over.” CNN.com continued, “‘Then she [one of the parents] had all four of the kids come back later and say everything was okay, and they were all standing at attention, like they were all scared to death,’ the man told dispatch. ‘And I think there’s something very serious going on there.’” CNN.com is not aware if authorities did anything after this distressing call, but clearly they did’t do enough because it is obvious the system failed these children.
The reports of abuse dates back to 2008.
In 2008, “An Alexandria police report obtained Tuesday also shows a different daughter told authorities in 2008 one of her mothers bruised her with a belt. Asked by police about the beating, Jennifer and Sarah Hart said the girl had fallen down the stairs days before, the report shows.” At this point, they only had three children. In 2009, they adopted three more, including Devonte.
The Oregonian reported when the family lived in Minnesota, “Sarah Hart reached a probation agreement April 14, 2011, a week after she pleaded guilty to physically abusing one of her daughters, who was then 6 years old.” The next day, only a couple months before the school year ended, all of the children were immediately removed from public school. Therefore, it appears the reason why the children were homeschooled was because the parents were exposed as being abusive. In Oregon and Washington, the two states they lived after Minnesota, the Harts never filed the proper notices — the states “require families to tell officials that they’re homeschooling their children, with notice to their local school system.”
CBS News reported neighbors claimed in May 2017, “one of the girls rang their doorbell at 1:30 a.m. She ‘was at our door in a blanket saying we needed to protect her,’ Bruce DeKalb said. ‘She said that they were abusing her.’” And now we have the 911 call from November.
How were these adults able to keep adopted children after such a history of abuse? These lives could have been saved. And we can’t help but ask, were their cries for help ignored because they were Black children?