'Maybe We Didn’t Know Them At All?' Hart Family Friend Speaks Out After Jury Verdict
After a California jury ruled that the crash that killed a family of 8 was a murder-suicide carried out by married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart, a friend of the family says she is not any closer to finding closure.
“Since the beginning of this, and when it first happened, there have been those of us who basically questioned our own sanity,” Riannah Weaver tells PEOPLE. “We also questioned, like, how did we not see this if that’s what happened?”
Weaver met the family — Sarah, Jennifer and their adopted children Markis, Jeremiah, Abigail, Devonte, Ciera and Hannah — around 2010 at a fundraiser. From the beginning, she was drawn to the family, which Jen and Sarah had dubbed the “Hart Tribe.”
“They were always together and very wonderful and very approachable; they were just magical,” Weaver recalls.
But the family’s picture-perfect image came to a tragic end when their SUV was found at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California on March 26, 2018. Days later, authorities announced that the crash was not an accident, but a crime.
In addition to always being together at events, Jennifer constantly shared images of their happy home life on Facebook.
“It’s always been this thing that we’ve discussed, like a lot of us [who knew them] discussed that maybe we didn’t know them at all,” Weaver admits. “So there’s the possibility that Jen and Sarah had made that decision.”
She continues: “But I still can’t imagine them taking the kids on purpose.”
Weaver had spoken to both Jennifer and Sarah about their personal struggles in the past, but never thought they would hurt themselves or their children. She thinks mental health plays a large role in the couple’s decision to take their own lives and the lives of their children.
On Thursday, after a two-day coroner’s inquest presented by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, a jury ruled that Sarah and Jennifer Hart purposely drove their SUV off the cliff with their children inside, killing everyone.
Authorities believe the couple did this after years of abuse allegations in multiple states caught up to them in Washington, where they were living at the time of their deaths.
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One of the most upsetting details from the case for Weaver and her friends were the Google searches Sarah conducted as she and her family made their way south to California.
“Is death by drowning relatively painless?” Sarah searched Google on March 24, the day before Jennifer drove the family off the cliff.
“How long does it take to die from hypothermia in water while drowning in a car?” Sarah also searched, California Highway Patrol Officer Jay Slates testified Thursday.
Jennifer drove off the cliff about 54 hours after she and her family first left their home. On Thursday, a California Highway Patrol expert testified that the crash was intentional.
“When the Harts left their home, I don’t think they knew what they were going to do at that point,” Slates said. “I do think that they knew CPS was there.”
He continued: “One of the final questions I would ask all my witnesses would be, based on how well you know Sarah and Jennifer Hart, would this be an act that they could do? Would they be the type of people that would say ‘If I can’t have my children, nobody can have my children?’ And most of the witnesses either stated, ‘Yes, Jennifer would say that’ or ‘Yes, that would be a decision that either or both of them would make.’”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.