Investigators are diligently working to piece together what happened to the Hart family as teen Devonte Hart and his sisters Hannah and Sierra remain missing. Adoptive mothers Jennifer and Sarah Hart died in the crash, and siblings Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail were found at the scene of the tragedy in Mendocino County, California, as well.
According to KATU, the search for Devonte, 15; Sierra, 12; and Hannah, 16, is now considered a recovery effort, rather than a rescue effort, due to the conditions in the water where the vehicle was found. Alongside the continuing search, officials are retracing the days just prior to the Hart crash to try to piece together what happened. While investigators believe that the three missing children were with the family when their SUV plunged over the side of the California cliff, officials are considering the possibility that the family was not entirely together at the time.
The Hart family was most recently living in Washington state, and a neighbor’s call to child services may have prompted the family’s sudden trip south. Devonte reportedly had been asking the neighbors for food, and after multiple encounters, the neighbors felt it was time for child welfare services to check into the situation. KTVU details that after someone from child protective services tried to visit the home on March 23, the Hart family hurriedly left the house together and drove away, even leaving the pets unattended.
Officials believe that the Harts were in Oregon on the morning of March 24, reaching the Fort Bragg, California, area that evening. It is not known exactly when the Hart’s 2003 GMC Yukon went over the cliff in California, but it was found on March 26, and investigators note that Jen Hart was seen in a Fort Bragg grocery store on March 25.
Investigators initially said that the incident involving Devonte and his family appeared to be an accident. However, the theory has changed as additional details emerge. The Oregonian notes that data from the GMC Yukon’s event data recorder has revealed that the SUV first came to a complete stop at the Route 1 pullout in Mendocino County.
Then, the Hart Yukon reportedly sped off the edge of the cliff and the speedometer was reportedly “pinned” at 90 mph, further leading officials to believe the incident was intentional. There were no brake or skid marks found at the scene, a straight section along Route 1, and the car reportedly would have had to travel over the 75-foot dirt turnout before going over the cliff.
Allegations of abuse against Devonte and his five siblings have emerged as the search played out, and the Associated Press has just reported another allegation from a former family friend named Alexandra Argyropoulos. The woman says that she reported Sarah and Jennifer Hart to child welfare officials in 2013 after seeing what she felt was “controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment.”
Oregon child welfare workers interviewed the Hart children after the 2013 complaint, but they reportedly felt the children had been extensively coached by their mothers and they were unable to do anything more to help them at the time. The Argyopoulos allegation emerges after reports previously surfaced detailing a 2011 incident with one daughter as well as new allegations from neighbors Dana and Bruce DeKalb that prompted the March CPS visit.
Those following the Hart sibling tragedy are hoping that Devonte and his missing sisters may somehow still be found safe. Unfortunately, a safe recovery seems rather unlikely at this point. This tragedy is generating a lot of discussion about the red flags that were present prior to the incident, and people will be anxious to learn more as the investigation into the Hart crash continues.