TW ⚠️: This case talks about child abuse/neglect.
The Hart Family were an American family that consisted of 2 women named Jennifer and Sarah Hart and their 6 adoptive children, Ciera, Abigail, Jeremiah, Devonte, Hannah, and Markis. After their deaths were initially thought to be an accident, investigators found that Jennifer and Sarah Hart killed themselves and their children in a murder-suicide by driving off a California cliff in March of 2018.
Jennifer Jean Hart was born on June 4, 1979, and Sarah Margaret Hart was born on April 8, 1979. Both women were from South Dakota and began a relationship when they met at Northern State University. Their relationship was initially kept a secret, but they finally came out to their families and friends after getting married in 2009.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart began to take in foster children in 2004 while living in Alexandria, Minnesota. Their first child was a 15 year old girl named Lee. The girl was believed to have been abused and starved by the couple. One day, the women dropped Lee off at her therapist’s office and never returned. The girl at first assumed they would pick her up after her appointment, until her therapist informed her that they would not be coming back and she would be placed in another foster home.
On March 4, 2006, 3 siblings from Colorado County, Texas were placed in the care of Jennifer and Sarah. Those children were 7 year old Markis, 4 year old Hannah, and 2 year old Abigail. Around this time, the women were very vocal on social media about their life as a same sex couple with adopted children. Jennifer went as far as posting a humiliating status on Facebook about their first night with the children, ending the post with the quote, “If not us- WHO?” This statement displays their ridiculous savior complex.
In 2008, 3 more children were put into the care of Jennifer and Sarah. The 3 siblings from Houston were 3 year old Ciera Maija, 4 year old Jeremiah, and 6 year old Devonte Jordan, after their biological mother lost custody of them and they could no longer stay with relatives. In 2014, a photograph of Devonte, who was 12 at the time, hugging a police officer during a protest in Portland, Oregon went viral. This further made Jennifer and Sarah play up their social media image as a “big happy family”.
For years, the Harts faced several allegations of abuse. There were several clear signs that the Hart children were being terribly abused, but no one seemed to do anything about it. While living in Minnesota in 2008, a teacher saw a bruise on Hannah’s arm, to which Hannah informed her that Jennifer had beat her with a belt.
In 2010, Abigail, who was 6, complained to her teachers that she had “owies” on her back and stomach. Upon inspection, her teachers found the she had been beaten and Abigail further told them that Jennifer held her head underneath cold water. When asked why her mother would do that, Abigail said that they accused her of stealing a penny that she found, and punished her. All of the children had also complained to school officials that they were hungry and not getting enough food at home; it was found that some of their friends even brought food to school for them.
After being questioned by authorities, Sarah took responsibility for the abuse and was sentenced to 1 year of community service. Schools officials later claimed that they stopped reporting the abuse to authorities because they feared that the children would be punished even more for speaking up. Just a few months after this information came out, all 6 children were taken out of public school to be homeschooled.
When the Hart family moved to Oregon in 2013, authorities were notified about their previous abuse allegations. They investigated this by interviewing close friends of the family. These friends talked about how strict the women were on the children, including making them walk in a straight line, forcing them to raise their hands before speaking, and not allowing them to laugh. They further stated that the children were especially afraid of Jennifer and Sarah was just cold and closed off. After interviewing the women and children, they shared no further details of abuse, so there wasn’t much that the investigators could go after.
In 2017, the Hart family moved to their final home in Woodland, Washington. The house was a bit isolated from the neighbors, and it did not appear that children even lived there. One night in August at about 1:30 A.M., Hannah, who was now 14, jumped out a 2 story window and ran to her next door neighbor’s home. She begged the couple living there not tell her mothers she was there and that her adoptive mothers were racist and abusive. After the neighbors did not want to get involved, Jennifer and Sarah came to get Hannah and brought her back home. They told the neighbors that she was lying and that she and the other children had behavioral issues because they were “drug babies”.
After this incident, the woman living in the neighbor’s home told her father about the ordeal, who then called 911 to report it to authorities, fearing that the children were being severely abused. Devonte also began going to the neighbor’s house and asking for food. He would tell neighbors that their adoptive mothers would withhold food from them as a punishment. He then asked the neighbors to drop the food off at a back fence so that Jennifer and Sarah would not catch him. After these reports, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) went to the family home twice to speak with Jennifer and Sarah. The first visit was on March 23, 2018, to which they did not reach the family, and on March 26, 2018, the day of the murders.
On March, 26, 2018 Jennifer and Sarah took their 6 kids on a road trip through Oregon and down to California. Jennifer, who was driving, took the family in their SUV near a cliff on California State Route 1 in Mendocino, California. Their car was seen parked near the cliff for several hours before Jennifer pushed on the accelerator and drove the car off the cliff. The accident resulted in the deaths of both Jennifer and Sarah, both 39 at the time, and all 6 of their children: 12 year old Ciera, 14 year old Abigail, 14 year old Jeremiah, 15 year old Devonte, 16 year old Hannah, and 19 year old Markis.
A few hours after the accident, a German tourist taking photographs looked over the edge of the cliff and saw the SUV flipped upside-down. The tourist called authorities and they came to investigate the crime scene. Jennifer and Sarah’s bodies were found inside the car, while the bodies of Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail were found a short distance away. Ciera’s body was found washed up on a shore 2 weeks later. A few days after this, a human foot inside a shoe was found and DNA tests determined the foot to be Hannah’s. Devonte’s body has never been found and he was declared dead on April 3, 2019.
At first, the family’s deaths were believed to be a tragic accident, but investigators found several horrific pieces of evidence leading up to the deaths. After doing a search of Sarah’s phone history, investigators found that just moments before the accident, she googled: “Can 500 mgs of Benadryl kill a 120-pound woman?” “Is death by drowning relatively painless?” “How long does it take to die from hypothermia while drowning in a car?” and “No-kill shelters for dogs?”. Autopsies also determined that Jennifer’s blood alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of her death, and Sarah and 2 of the children had a drug often found in Benadryl in their systems. An investigation of the scene found that there were no tire marks nearby, indicating that there was no effort to try and stop the car. The deaths of the Hart children were determined to be a murder-suicide, or a familicide, at the hands of their adoptive mothers Jennifer and Sarah.
The abuse that these children had to endure through their lives because of these evil human beings are horrifying. There’s no reason why these women adopted these children other than to play some savior role and make themselves look good to others. The system failed these children as well after doing nothing when the children and others came forward with abuse claims so many times. Do not believe how everything is portrayed on social media because you never know what horrors are going on behind closed doors. If you are adopting a child to make your image look good, then you need to reevaluate your thinking because you do not care about the child’s well-being whatsoever. Markis, Abigail, Hannah, Jeremiah, Devonte, and Ciera deserved a better life than what they were given and I hope they now have that in the afterlife.