Search for missing Hart children to intensify Wednesday - KPTV - FOX 12

Search for missing Hart children to intensify Wednesday

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MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA (KPTV) -

Authorities Tuesday released what is likely one of the last photos of Jennifer Hart – a surveillance image captured her at a Safeway in Fort Bragg, California the morning of March 25 – a day later she was found dead in an SUV with four family members off the coast of Mendocino County.

California Highway Patrol said investigators believe the crash was intentional, as the SUV stopped 70 feet from the cliff before it plunged over the side without any signs of braking. 

Court documents related to the case said the speedometer was “pinned” at 90 mph.

The bodies of parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found at the crash site, as well as three of their six adopted children: Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14.

Whether the other children, Devonte Hart, 15; Hannah Hart, 16; and Sierra Hart, 12, were in the SUV remains a mystery. 

The search for the three missing children will intensify Wednesday morning.

The Mendocino County Sheriff said more than 70 search and rescue members will look for them by land, sea and air near MacKerricher State Park. 

The heartbreaking case is capturing the attention of the nation as questions surrounding the family’s past swirl and law enforcement agencies across several states scramble to nail down their route and intentions. 

The California Highway Patrol released a map showing the family’s journey from Newport down to Fort Bragg.

A spokesman for the department told FOX 12 that investigators traced their route through cell phone pings.

What spurred the trip might never be known, but just days before, child welfare advocates in the family’s home state of Washington launched an investigation regarding possible child abuse or neglect. 

Authorities said they were never able to contact the family.

The family’s neighbors in Woodland said they contacted authorities after Devonte Hart repeatedly asked them for food. 

Police and court records indicate more past trouble.

Sarah Hart was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault involving one of the children back in 2011 in Minnesota. 

Police reports show that officers documented bruising on one of the daughters and quote the girl telling them her mother hit her with a fist and “put her head in cold water.”

The family also lived in West Linn before moving to Woodland.

West Linn Police told FOX 12 that officers got a case referral regarding the family from the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2013.

Police and DHS said they couldn’t share more information about the case.

The Associated Press reports that a woman claims she contacted authorities in 2013 after she witnessed “controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment” toward the children.

Alexandra Argyropoulos told AP she is a former friend of the Harts.

She said she told authorities the parents were depriving the kids of food as punishment.

“My heart is completely broken. The current system failed to protect these children from their abusers,” Argyropoulos said, according to the AP article. 

But friends of the family have painted a different picture – telling FOX 12 those were not the Harts they knew and loved.

The six Hart children were adopted in Texas.

Former neighbors told FOX 12 there are two sets of biological siblings.

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