Authorities believe Devonte Hart was killed in the car wreck that claimed the lives of his family members

By Harriet Sokmensuer
March 26, 2019 05:18 PM
Davonte Hart (right)
Johnny Huu Nguyen/AP

One year after his seven family members were found dead at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff, 15-year-old Devonte Hart is the only relative unaccounted for in what authorities said was an intentional car crash caused by his adoptive mother.

On March 26, 2018, the bodies of Devonte’s mothers, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, were found near their SUV at the bottom of a cliff off the Pacific Northwest Highway in Northern California. The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah’s three adopted children, Abigail, Jeremiah and Markis, were found nearby.

In the following months, authorities would later recover the body of Sierra Hart near the crash site that April as well as the remains of Hannah Hart, which were not identified until January 2019.

Without any signs of Devonte’s body, many hope the teen is still alive, but police say he is likely dead.

RELATED: Inside the Case of Family of 8 Whose Care Was Found At Bottom of Cliff One Year Ago

In a recent interview with PEOPLE, Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman says that on March 15, a superior court judge determined Devonte was in the vehicle at the time of the crash. The judge’s ruling will allow Allman to sign the teen’s death certificate after the county coroner’s inquest is presented April 3.

During the two-day inquest, authorities will present evidence from the investigation to a jury, which will decide on the manner of death for each Hart family member.

“The most logical place for him was to be in the car,” Allman explains. “[This] has happened before when there’s no body found.”

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The family of eight, who resided in Woodland, Washington, were affectionately known as the “Hart tribe.” They found internet fame in 2014 when a photo went viral of Devonte tearfully hugging an officer at a protest in Oregon following a police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

The photo was first published by The Oregonian and within a few hours was shared more than 150,000 times. The paper called it the “hug shared around the world.”

Devonte Hart (bottom left) with his siblings and mothers
Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian/AP

The crash was initially reported to be an accident, but authorities announced in April they believed it to have been a deliberate act.

The motive of the crash remains unknown. However, Sarah and Jennifer had past allegations of child abuse against them in multiple states.

RELATED: Summer Before Mom Drove Her Entire Family Over Cliff, Teen Girl Begged Neighbors to Save Her

Allman hopes the inquest will help answer the public’s questions about the case and bring as much closure as possible.

“There is a heaping amount of evidence and honestly it belongs to the public,” Allman says. “There’s just so many unknowns on this, but now we think we know a lot of the unknowns.”

The inquest will be live-streamed on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. 

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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