Saturday 21 April 2018

Three children still missing after vehicle 'deliberately' plunged off cliff killing six

The Hart family at a Bernie Sanders rally in 2016 (Tristan Fortsch/KATU News/AP/PA)
The Hart family at a Bernie Sanders rally in 2016 (Tristan Fortsch/KATU News/AP/PA)
Portland police Sergeant Bret Barnum (left) and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in 2014 (Johnny Huu Nguyen/AP/PA)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

California police on Tuesday retraced the travel route of a Washington state family as part of efforts to find three children missing since their vehicle plunged off a cliff, killing at least six people in a crash believed to be deliberate.

The multiracial family's sports utility vehicle was discovered at the foot of a California coastal cliff last Monday, three days after child welfare authorities opened an investigation into allegations their six adopted children were being abused or neglected, police and social services officials said.

Driver Jennifer Hart, 38 and Sarah Hart, 38, a married white couple, were killed, together with at least three of their black children.

The bodies of the three other children were not recovered, leading investigators to believe they were washed into the ocean or the children were not in the vehicle.

"We don't know for sure either way if the kids were in the vehicle or not," said California Highway Patrol spokesman Cal Robertson. "We want to do our due diligence and investigate the possibility these children could be elsewhere."

A surveillance video from Fort Bragg, California, may show Jennifer Hart the day before the crash, the Oregonian newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing police.

One of the missing children is 15-year-old Devonte Hart who drew international attention after he was photographed hugging a white police officer at a rally months after the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

While searchers combed coastline for the children, police worked out the route their GMC Yukon took from their home in Woodland, Washington, around 500 miles (805 km) away.

"We're reaching out to the public to see if they've seen the family, saw the vehicle before the incident," said Robertson.

The SUV stopped at a scenic Pacific Ocean viewpoint at the edge of Highway 1, about 180 miles (290 km) north of San Francisco, then accelerated over the edge, leaving no skid marks or indications of a collision.

"We don't have any physical evidence to suggest that this is not an intentional act," Robertson said.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said the now-deceased children were identified on March 23 as potential abuse victims.

The case followed the 2011 conviction of Sarah Hart for misdemeanor domestic assault of her daughter Abigail in Minnesota, court documents show.

Devonte had asked neighbors for food for himself and his siblings after his parents withheld it as punishment, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

Reuters

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