- Six adopted children were killed in a murder-suicide at the hands of their parents, who drove their SUV off a seaside cliff in California in March 2018, a special jury ruled Thursday.
- Investigators told jurors that Jennifer and Sarah Hart deliberately caused the crash, killing the entire family, just days after child-welfare officials tried to investigate whether the children were being abused.
- The family had been known for traveling across the country and advocating for social-justice causes.
- One of the children, 15-year-old Devonte Clark, was pictured in a viral photo hugging a white police officer at a Ferguson-related protest in 2014.
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A family of eight who died last year when their SUV mysteriously plunged off a 100-foot seaside cliff in Northern California were killed as part of a murder-suicide at the hands of the two parents, a rare special coroner’s jury ruled Thursday.
The crash occurred just three days after child-welfare officials visited the Hart family’s home to investigate whether the six adopted children were being abused or neglected by their parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart.
Investigators testified that Jennifer Hart was drunk, with an alcohol level of 0.102 when she deliberately drove her family off the cliff. Sarah Hart, meanwhile, had 42 doses of Benadryl in her system at the time of her death, according to prosecutors.
Investigators also told the jury that the couple’s SUV had accelerated before going off the cliff, and that there were no brake marks on the ground to indicate that the driver had tried to stop.
Beyond that, Sarah Hart had even made a number of disturbing internet searches on her phone before the crash, looking up information on suicide, whether drowning was painful, and Benadryl dosages, according to investigators.
Since their death, rumors of physical abuse and food deprivation at the hands of the Harts have circulated throughout the media. One neighbor had filed a complaint accusing the Harts of starving the children as punishment, and multiple teachers reported that the children had bruises on their bodies.
Ultimately, the murder-suicide ruling came after two days of disturbing testimony before the Mendocino County jury. The jury was impaneled to determine the cause of the family’s deaths, not to criminally prosecute them, The New York Times reported.
Jurors took just one hour to deliberate, according to CBS affiliate KOIN-TV.
The Harts were known as a free-spirited family who often traveled around the country attending events, offering free hugs, and advocating for social-justice causes, according to the Associated Press.
Outwardly, they appeared to be a happy family. Jennifer Hart posted videos of the children dancing and singing on her YouTube channel.
One of the children, 15-year-old Devonte Hart, shot to nationwide fame in 2014 after an image of him embracing a white police officer at a Ferguson-related protest went viral.
Devonte’s body was never found, though he is presumed dead.
Authorities have recovered the remains of the other five children, including 12-year-old Ciera, 14-year-old Abigail, 14-year-old Jeremiah, 16-year-old Hannah, and 19-year-old Markis.
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