Another Body Has Been Found Near Where A Family SUV Carrying 8 Crashed Off A Cliff
Five members of the Hart family were found dead in the vehicle when their van plunged off a California cliff last month. Three children remain missing.
A sixth body has been found near the site in California where a couple and their six adopted children plunged off a cliff in their van last month.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the body of a black woman was found in the surf on Saturday near where the Hart family's van was found on March 26.
A couple spotted the body floating in the surf on Saturday, and another bystander pulled it onto the beach and called the local fire department, who alerted the sheriff's office.
The bodies of the two parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and three of their children were found in the van, but three other children remain still missing, including 15-year-old Devonte Hart, whose photo hugging a white police officer during an anti-police violence protest went viral in 2014. Hannah, 16, and Ciera, 12, have also not been found.
Authorities have not been able to positively identify the body found on Saturday but said the sheriff's office is "investigating the possibility that the body may be one of the two missing Hart girls."
An autopsy will be conducted on Tuesday, but authorities warned identifying the body will likely be done through DNA analysis, which can take several weeks.
Last week investigators said the crash may have been "an intentional act," noting that information from the car's software and a lack of brake or skid marks suggest that the van stopped at a dirt lookout and then appears to have been driven directly off the cliff.
"It was pure acceleration ... until it hit the bottom of the cliff," said Greg Baarts with the California Highway Patrol Northern Division.
The sheriff's office said on Saturday that they are monitoring conditions to see if further searches including divers can be conducted.
"There were no other signs of the other missing Hart children," their statement said.
The Oregonian reported on Sunday that the family had a troubled history, with reports of domestic abuse in several states. In a 2008 incident in Minnesota, Hannah Hart, then 6, told authorities Jennifer had beaten her with a belt. Two years later, Abigail, who was then also 6, told authorities her mother had beaten her, held her head under cold water, and denied her food as punishment. In the second case, the paper reported, Sarah Hart received a 90-day suspended jail sentence and a year of probation.
In 2012, another allegation of abuse was reported to authorities in Oregon by a family friend who said she witnessed emotional abuse and cruel punishments against the children. The state's Department of Human Services said there was not enough evidence to build a case.
Last year, after the family moved again to Washington state, Hannah Hart, then 16, knocked on a neighbor's door in the middle of the night wrapped in a blanket and missing her front teeth. The neighbors, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, told the Oregonian that she appeared emaciated, and told them she was being abused, asking them to protect her. The family came to the neighbors' door the next day and told them Hannah was 12 years old, and that she had been going through a hard time. The neighbors called the police but were told there was nothing they could do.
In March, the DeKalbs called child protective services after Devonte Hart came to their door several nights in a row asking for food because he said his parents were withholding meals from him and his siblings as punishment.
The Oregonian reported that a child welfare worker went to the Hart residence on March 23 but left when no one answered the door. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office says the family was in Fort Bragg, California, by that evening. That was three days before their van was found at the bottom of the cliff.
Ciera Hart's name and age were misstated in an earlier version of this post. Ciera was 12 years old.