Tragic story behind powerful viral image

As Black Lives Matter protests continue around the world, an image of a young boy in tears as he hugs a police officer has resurfaced as a symbol of unity and hope – but there is a devastating story behind the viral image.

The photo from November 2014 was taken during a rally to protest the death of African American man Michael Brown Jr who was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014.

The boy in the photo was 12-year-old Devonte Hart, he attended the demonstration with his white adoptive mother Jennifer Hart, holding a sign that read ‘Free Hugs’.

Different versions of what took place during the photo have been reported but it’s believed the photo was staged by his mother and the tears streaming down Devonte’s face were misinterpreted.

Four years after this image went viral, in March 2018, Ms Hart drove her wife and six adopted black children off a cliff in California. There were no survivors.

Four years after this image went viral, Devonte Hart's mother drove her wife and six adopted black children off a cliff in California. Source: Facebook

After the tragic murder suicide, a long history of abuse within the family was uncovered.

In 2011 the family were living in Minnesota and after several complaints were made to child protective services (CPS) of Ms Hart withholding food and physically abusing her children, the 38-year-old was sentenced to probation.

The family moved to Oregon for two years until CPS began investigating the family again. So the Harts packed up and moved to Washington.

In 2017 neighbours the DeKalb family found a 15-year-old Devonte begging for food and his sister Hannah pleaded with the family for help claiming her mothers were racist and whipped the children with belts.

The DeKalbs said a scared Devonte visited their home on nine seperate occasions asking for “non perishable food” to feed six children.

He reluctantly told the family that as punishment he and his siblings were made to skip meals but occasionally they would be left for days without food.

Ms DeKalb called the authorities while her father notified the police.

As an investigation into the abuse was opened by the state, on March 24 2018, the Harts once again fled.

The story behind the viral image has been examined in Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy, that was released on Amazon in April and speculates that the Harts had received USD $277,000 in public money to support the adoptions and their popular social media accounts told a story of a loving and happy biracial family.

Jennifer (Left) and Sarah Hart (Right) with some of their family. Source: AAP

Police were tracking the family but were unable to get to them before the tragedy was carried out.

On March 26, Jennifer Hart drove her family off a cliff in the Westport area of Mendocino County in California.

Court documents state California Highway Patrol investigators found no “acceleration marks, tire friction marks or braking furrow marks” at the scene.

Investigators said there was no evidence the car collided with the embankment as it “traversed towards the tidal zone below” and the speedometer was “pinned” at 90 mph.

Forensic pathologist Greg Pizarro testified that Jennifer Hart was drunk when she drove her large family off the cliff, saying an autopsy found she had a blood alcohol level of 0.102. 

California drivers are considered drunk with a level of 0.08 or higher. Jennifer was also the only one wearing a seatbelt, he said.

Investigators said there was no evidence the car tried to brake. Source: AAP

Sarah Hart and the children had large amounts of diphenhydramine in their systems, a drug that can cause drowsiness, authorities have said.

The bodies of siblings Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail were found the same day near the car. 

Weeks later, the body of Ciera Hart was pulled from the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Pizarro said Ciera's body was too decomposed and he couldn't determine a cause of death.

“You can only assume her manner of death was similar to all the other children,” Mr Pizarro said.

Human remains found in a shoe were matched to Hannah Hart through DNA testing.

The remains of 15-year-old Devonte Hart have not been found.

with AP

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, find help by visiting Lifeline.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.