According to one allegation, Jennifer Hart viewed the children as "animals" before they were adopted and thought of herself "as their savior"

By Harriet Sokmensuer
May 02, 2018 01:28 PM
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About five years before a couple drove their SUV off a California cliff in what police believe was an intentional crash that killed their entire family of eight, child welfare investigators received troubling allegations from acquaintances: that the couple’s seemingly happy disposition on social media was a facade that masked the mistreatment of their adoptive children.

In 2013, the Department of Human Services in Oregon, then the family’s home state, opened an investigation into the Hart family after learning of multiple abuse and neglect allegations, according to documents obtained by PEOPLE.

But officials did not find evidence the children were in danger and closed the investigation.

Parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart and their six kids are presumed dead after their vehicle plunged 100 feet down to the water off the Pacific Coast Highway in late March. Their SUV was found on March 26.

The Hart family
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Six members of the family have been found dead, including both parents. The remaining two members of the family — kids Devonte, 15, and Hannah, 16— remain unaccounted for and are believed dead.

‘They Go Back to Looking Lifeless’

Multiple women spoke with Oregon child welfare workers about the Hart family. According to the documents, one alleged that Jennifer Hart “does this thing for her Facebook page, where the kids pose, and are made to look like one big happy family, but after the photo event, they go back to looking lifeless.”

(None of the women who made allegations were identified by name in the documents.)

According to one allegation, Jennifer viewed the children as “animals” before they were adopted and said she thought of herself “as their savior.”

According to another allegation, Jennifer was also “controlling in her relationship with Sarah,” as well as manipulative and cold to the children.

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The couple would target certain children for mistreatment, according to one allegation, but they favored Devonte, who became famous after a photo of him hugging an officer at a 2014 police reform rally went viral.

When questioned by a caseworker, the Harts said they use meditation as a form of punishment. But one woman alleged she saw the eldest child, Markis, being forced to lie on the floor of a dark room for seven hours as punishment.

Previous Abuse Conviction

Jennifer and Sarah moved the family from Minnesota to Oregon because “they believe[d] their ‘lifestyle’ was misunderstood,” an Oregon caseworker summarized, according to the documents.

However, Minnesota caseworkers— when contacted by Oregon CPS— said they’d received two referrals about the Harts: one after one girl was seen going through the garbage at school, and another when another daughter was seen receiving food from her classmates after complaining of not being fed.

FBI (2)

Hannah and Devonte Hart

When a teacher in Minnesota found bruises on then 6-year-old Abigail’s body in 2010, Jennifer was charged with domestic assault and malicious punishment. She pleaded guilty to an abuse charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail — which was stayed — and one year of supervised probation.

The family then took their children out of school to homeschool them before moving to Oregon.

The Minnesota caseworker warned Oregon caseworkers that the Harts were a problematic case because “these women look normal.”

She continued: “Without any regular or consistent academic or medical oversight, and unknown child welfare reviews … these children risk falling through the cracks.”