On March 26, five of the eight members of the Hart family were discovered dead after their vehicle was found upside-down at the bottom of a cliff

By Harriet Sokmensuer
September 05, 2018 06:48 PM
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Months before her brothers and sisters were found dead at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff in California — crashed there when their mother drove them over the edge in the family’s SUV — Hannah Hart ran to her next-door neighbors’ home, “begging for help.”

The incident, one of a series of troubling interactions between the Hart family and their neighbors in the lead up to the fatal crash in March, is detailed in a newly released trove of investigative documents.

Among the 400-plus pages is an incident report from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office that describes how, in the summer of 2017, a panicked Hannah leapt from a second-story window at her family’s home in Woodlawn, Washington, and raced to the DeKalbs at the next house over — one of only two neighbors the Harts had.

Inside, Hannah, then 15, ran up to the couple’s bedroom and urged the DeKalbs to get her to Seattle, according to the sheriff’s report, which cites an interview with the neighbors.

Wife Dana DeKalb recalled that Hannah appeared thin and “much younger” than her age. The girl was also missing her two front teeth.

“Hannah said her parents would whip her with a belt and withhold food as punishment,” according to the incident report. Within minutes, according to Dana, “they could hear the rest of the family outside calling for Hannah,” but the teen “hid behind the bed, asking Dana not to let her family come in.”

Dana went outside and spoke to Hannah’s parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, who told her that Hannah had a “rough childhood” and “some mental health issues,” according to the report.

They “assured” Dana that no abuse was going on inside their home.

Jennifer then went into the DeKalbs’ home and spoke with Hannah and “when they came down stairs together, Dana described Hannah as being much calmer and was answering Jennifer’s questions with ‘yes, ma’ am,’ ” according to the report.

The Hart family returned home, the report shows. The next morning, they came back over to the DeKalbs to apologize, where the Hart parents explained that things had been made difficult because the family was in the middle of remodeling their Woodlawn home while also living in it.

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According to property records cited in the documents, the Harts moved to Woodlawn in May 2017, having previously lived in Minnesota and Oregon.

Ten months later, on March 26, five of the eight members of their family — Jennifer and Sarah and three of their kids: Abigail, Markis and Jeremiah Hart — were discovered dead after their vehicle was found upside-down at the bottom of a cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California.

A subsequent investigation led officials to describe the crash as apparently intentional with Jennifer, who was intoxicated at the time, behind the wheel.

Authorities believe all eight Harts were in the SUV at the time, though two of the kids — Hannah, now 16, and 15-year-old Devonte Hart — remain unaccounted for and are feared dead. The body of daughter Sierra (whose legal name is Ciera) was pulled from the water in April.

Five months since the crash and no motive has been confirmed.

“I can fairly say that several of the questions that have been asked today [will] never be answered,” Mendocino County, California, Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters in March. “It was un-witnessed. We don’t know what happened.”

However, a pattern has emerged from public records and news reports of a family growing increasingly reclusive, though the full picture of what went on behind closed doors remains unknown.

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Credit: Jen Hart/Facebook

The Harts had a history of child abuse, echoing what Hannah told her neighbors last year, and child welfare officials had visited the home in the days before the crash after Dana DeKalb called them when another Hart child came asking for some food.

Records previously obtained by PEOPLE show that mom Sarah pleaded guilty to domestic assault in Minnesota after hitting her daughter Abigail, then 6.

Months after Hannah ran to their house last year, the DeKalbs would come in contact with the family again, just before their deaths, according to the investigative documents.

Three days before the crash was reported, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services received a call alleging the Hart children appeared to be “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect,” Norah West, the department’s spokeswoman, previously told PEOPLE.

The call was made by the DeKalbs after Devonte began coming over and asking for food. He told them his mothers did not feed him and his siblings and wouldn’t let them play outside.

“I was trying to help them and protect them,” Dana told local TV station KGW in March after the crash.

She added, “That’s not how I thought it was going to end.”

According to the investigative documents, the DeKalbs told Clark County deputies that when they originally learned a large family was moving next door last year, they were excited about the prospect of having children around.

But after several months of no contact between the couple and their new neighbors, the DeKalbs began to worry. Even after moving in, the Hart children were never seen playing outside, they said.

Credit: Mendocino Sheriff/Facebook
Credit: Kale Williams/The Oregonian/AP

The state’s DSHS tried unsuccessfully to contact the Hart family on three occasions, the first time on March 23.

They tried again March 26 and March 27, not knowing the family had already perished in the crash.

California authorities previously announced that Jennifer, who was driving the SUV, was intoxicated, with a blood alcohol level of 0.102 (the legal limit is .08) and that that three of the four Hart kids tested positive for the active ingredient in Benadryl.

Sarah also tested positive for the drug.

While Hannah and Devonte’s bodies remain unaccounted for, California officials tell PEOPLE they are continuing to search for their remains.

• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON