Mystery surrounds family's car cliff plunge as three kids yet to be found

AP

Mystery surrounds the disappearance of three missing children after their parents and three other siblings were killed when their SUV plunged off a scenic highway onto rocks in the ocean below.

Rescue teams took to air and sea on the Northern California coast on Wednesday after the bodies of married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found alongside three of their six children.

“We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon said, appealing for help retracing where the family had been before the vehicle was found on Monday.

“We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy.”

Investigators with the California Highway Patrol work at the scene where a couple and several of their children plunged in their SUV off. Source: AP

Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14, were all killed in the crash but Hannah Hart, 16; Devonte Hart, 15; and Sierra Hart, 12 are yet to be found.

Devonte gained international attention when he was photographed hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest over a fatal police shooting of a black man.

The California Highway Patrol has not determined why the vehicle went off the overlook on a particularly rugged part of coastline. A specialised team of accident investigators was trying to figure that out, Allmon said.

“There were no skid marks, there were no brake marks” at the roadside turnout where the vehicle went over, the sheriff said, adding that investigators have no reason to believe the crash was intentional.

Devonte Hart gained fame when this picture of him hugging officer Johnny Nguyen at a Portland rally went viral. He is one of three children still missing after the vehicle went over the cliff. Source: AP


Police had been called to family home

Clark County sheriff’s Sgt Brent Waddell said the family, who lived in Woodland, Washington, a small city outside Portland, Oregon, recently received a visit from Child Protective Services.

He said the sheriff’s office later entered the house and found no obvious signs of trouble or violence. It appeared the family planned a short trip because they left behind a pet, chickens and most of their belongings.

Sarah Hart had pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota in 2011. Her plea also led to the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child, online court records say.

The women, both 39, and their children died when their SUV plunged 100 feet (31 meters) from an ocean overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

A helicopter scours the scene as investigators try and understand what happened to the three missing children. Source: AP

Bill Groener, 67, was a next-door neighbor of the family when they lived in West Linn, Oregon, and described the siblings as foster children.

“They were friendly enough. The kids were all home-schooled. They stayed indoors most of the time, even in really nice weather,” Mr Groener said.

He said the family didn’t eat sugar, raised their own vegetables, had animals and went on camping trips.

“There was enough positive there to kind of counteract the feeling that something maybe wasn’t quite right,” Groener said.

He said they were neighbors for about two years and that “privacy was a big thing for them.”


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