IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Remains found after SUV plunged from cliff identified as those of 16-year-old girl

Still missing is Devonte Hart, the boy who was photographed in a powerful photo hugging a white police officer in 2014. He is likely dead, police said.
The pullout where the sports utility vehicle of Jennifer and Sarah Hart was recovered off Pacific Coast Highway near Westport, California.via AP

Authorities in California have identified the remains of a girl whose adoptive mother is believed to have intentionally driven a sport-utility vehicle off a cliff last year, after the child's biological mother provided DNA in the case.

Hannah Hart, 16, was identified after a partial foot was discovered inside a shoe found on a beach May 9, more than a month after the March 26 crash that is believed to have killed eight members of the Hart family, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Wednesday.

Still missing is Devonte Hart, 15, a black child who was photographed hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Oregon over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri, in an image that went viral.

The sheriff’s office said Devonte Hart is still listed as missing, but it's believed “the most likely scenario is that he too perished in this incident but the case remains open and active.”

Officials with the sheriff’s office and the California Highway Patrol have said they believe Jennifer Hart was drunk when she pulled off Highway 1 in Mendocino County, and that it appeared she purposefully drove the GMC Yukon off a cliff.

The identification of the remains of Hannah Hart came after authorities requested DNA samples from known family members, and after a woman who said she was the biological mother of Hannah and two other children, Markis, 19, and Abigail, 14, contacted the sheriff’s office in October and said she had heard about the case from a family member.

With the help of Mobile, Alabama, police, she provided a DNA sample that matched Hannah's, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said. The sheriff’s office said it received word from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services Laboratory about the identification on Tuesday.

Confirmed killed in the crash were Jennifer Hart, 38; her wife, Sarah Hart, 38; Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; Abigail Hart, 14; Hannah Hart, 16; and Ciera Hart, 12, authorities said. The remains of all seven had previously been found and have now been identified.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart pose with their six adopted children in 2016. All six of the children and their parents were believed to be in a vehicle that plunged off a coastal cliff.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart pose with their six adopted children in 2016. All six of the children and their parents were believed to be in a vehicle that plunged off a coastal cliff.Tristan Fortsch / KATU News via AP

The crash occurred just days after authorities in Washington state, where the family moved in 2017 from Oregon, opened an investigation following allegations the children were being neglected, the Associated Press reported.

Child welfare authorities in the Hart's hometown of Woodland, Washington, tried to reach the family just five hours before the crash. One social worker told a 911 dispatcher that day there were "concerns that the children aren't being fed."

Tests indicated that Sarah Hart and three of the dead children had Diphenhydramine, an active ingredient in the drug Benadryl, in their system, the sheriff’s office said. The drug can cause drowsiness.

"The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is poised to follow up any viable investigative lead but has not received any indication of Devonte being located elsewhere," the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Devonte Hart was photographed hugging a white Portland, Oregon, police officer, Sgt. Bret Barnum, in 2014 in a protest there weeks after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri.

Image: Bret Barnum, Devonte Hart
Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in Portland, Oregon, where people gathered in support of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.Johnny Nguyen / AP file

The image was called by some the "hug felt 'round the world."

Barnum said in a statement in March after the crash that the news deeply saddened him, and that "the short interaction with Devonte in November of 2014 was certainly one of those moments in my career which reinforced my love, passion, and duty in providing compassion and service to my community."