Hart family sighted in Fort Bragg prior to fatal Mendocino Coast crash

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Hart family timeline: Where was the family before the deadly Mendocino Coast crash?

The unfolding story of Jen and Sarah Hart, both 38, and their six adoptive children has captured national attention, and revealed public and personal lives at odds with one another — a public image of a functioning, modern family and a private history of interactions with Child Protective Services in Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s what’s known about the Hart family’s actions before its deadly plunge last month from a coastal Highway 1 cliff.
May 23, 2005: Sarah Margaret Gengler, then 26, petitions to change her name to Sarah Margaret Hart, taking the surname of her wife Jen Hart. The two met in college at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
September 2006: Siblings Markis, Abigail and Hannah are adopted from Colorado County, Texas.
February 2009: Jen and Sarah Hart adopt another set of siblings from southeast Texas, this time from Harris County: Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra.
Sept. 8, 2009: Markis, Abigail, Jeremiah, Devonte and Hannah are enrolled in Alexandria, Minnesota, public schools, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
Sept. 7, 2010: Sierra Hart joins her siblings as a kindergartener in the public school system.
Nov. 15, 2010: A report is filed with the Alexandria Police Department, in which Abigail Hart, then in first grade, told her teacher and detectives that Jen Hart put her head under cold water, bent her over the bathtub and hit her with a closed fist, resulting in “owies” to her abdomen and back. Abigail Hart told authorities the discipline was because she found a penny at school and had it in her pocket. When authorities interviewed Sarah Hart about the incident, she said it was her that had delivered the punishment, not Jen Hart, and that 6-year-old Abigail Hart likely said it was Jen Hart because she was mad at her.
Dec. 27, 2010: Sarah Hart is charged with domestic assault and malicious punishment of a child.
April 7, 2011: Sarah Hart pleads guilty to assault, and the malicious punishment of a child charge is dropped.
April 14, 2011: Sarah Hart reaches a probation agreement.
April 15, 2011: All six children are pulled from Alexandria Public Schools and placed in a home school setting.
July 18, 2013: Now residents of West Linn, Oregon, the West Linn Police Department files a report involving the Hart family and refers the case to the Oregon Department of Human Services, which handles child protective services cases. Details of what that report includes are not publicly available.
Nov. 25, 2014: A photograph of Devonte Hart, then 12, hugging a white police officer at a Portland protest, tears streaming down his face, goes viral.
March 20, 2016: The family is photographed onstage at a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Vancouver, Washington.
May 5, 2017: The Hart family buys a home in Woodland, Washington. Friends say the move was a result of unwanted media attention after the photo of Devonte Hart went viral.
March 23, 2018: A social worker for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services attempts to make contact with the family, after a neighbor files a complaint alleging the children were potential victims of abuse or neglect.
March 24, 2018: Cellphone pings indicate the family was in the area of Newport, Oregon about 8:05 a.m.
March 24, 2018: The Harts reach Fort Bragg about 8 p.m.
March 25, 2018: A man is believed to have spotted the Hart family at a knick-knack shop along the highway near Fort Bragg, about 20 miles south of their eventual crash site. Authorities believe they left Fort Bragg at 9 p.m.
March 26, 2018: The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services again attempts to contact the family at its home in Woodside, Washington.
March 26, 2018: The family’s wrecked SUV is spotted by a passing motorist at the bottom of a cliff below a Highway 1 turnout, north of Westport.
March 27, 2018: A third attempt is made to contact the family in Washington.
March 27, 2018: Police identify Jennifer, Sarah, Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail Hart as victims in the crash. Devonte, Hannah and Sierra Hart are still missing.
Source: Compiled from government and court records, and personal interviews with friends, family and police.

Cellphone records, surveillance footage and a statement from a possible witness have led authorities to believe a Washington state family visited Fort Bragg the day before its SUV was found at the base of a Mendocino coast cliff, authorities said Tuesday.

The information offers the latest clue to the Hart family’s whereabouts before the wreckage of its 2003 GMC Yukon XL was spotted about 20 miles north of the small Mendocino County town March 26.

More than a week after the bodies of mothers Jen and Sarah Hart, and three of their six adoptive children were pulled from the ocean 550 miles from their Washington state home, three of the children are still missing, though authorities increasingly believe they were in the car when it plunged from the Highway 1 pullout.

Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail Hart, 14, were found near the wreckage. Still missing are Hannah Hart, 16, Devonte Hart, 15, and Cierra Hart, 12.

Crash investigators suspect Jen Hart, 38, intentionally drove off the cliff. They have highlighted the absence of tire friction marks, dirt tire prints or skid marks, and cite data from the SUV’s onboard computer that recorded the car came to a dead stop before accelerating for 70 feet and plunging to the rocky shoreline below.

Cellphone pings showed the family traveled through Newport, Oregon about 8:15 a.m. March 24, the day after a Washington State Department of Social and Health Services caseworker attempted to make contact with the Harts in response to a neighbor’s report of child abuse or neglect. By the next morning, the family was gone, neighbors said.

From Newport, Oregon, the family drove south on Highway 101 all day until cellphone pings indicate they reached Legget in Mendocino County, and turned onto Highway 1, the CHP said. Authorities believe they reached Fort Bragg about 8 p.m. March 24. Surveillance footage from a Fort Bragg Safeway showed Jen Hart purchasing bananas about 8:15 a.m. the next morning. CHP Officer Cal Robertson, a spokesman for the agency’s northern division, said the family left town at 9 p.m.

A Fort Bragg man told authorities he thought he saw the family at a knickknack shop along the highway, though he can’t recall the exact date or time, and can’t say for sure whether all eight members of the Hart family were there.

“He’s fairly convinced it was the family,” said Mendocino County sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney.

Also Tuesday, a representative from the Minnesota school district where the Hart children were enrolled prior to the family’s move to the Pacific Northwest confirmed the six children were pulled from school immediately after Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to abusing one of her daughters.

“The leave date ... indicates all six children left prior to the end of the school year for a home-school setting,” said Jill Johnson, spokeswoman for Alexandria Public Schools.

The children would never re-enter public schooling.

Sarah Hart’s Minnesota conviction was among the first in a string of domestic violence cases that followed the Harts from Minnesota to Oregon and then to Washington, including a July 2013 incident when Oregon police filed a report. The matter was referred to the Oregon Department of Human Services, which handles child protective services cases and declined to comment. Details of that report were not publicly available.

A storm expected to enter the area Thursday has prompted a more concerted search for the three remaining children. Early Wednesday, more than 70 volunteer searchers and law enforcement officers plan to comb the ocean, beaches and cliff bases from the crash site south toward Fort Bragg.

“Rain is coming in Thursday,” Barney said. “We’re trying to get this done.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

Hart family timeline: Where was the family before the deadly Mendocino Coast crash?

The unfolding story of Jen and Sarah Hart, both 38, and their six adoptive children has captured national attention, and revealed public and personal lives at odds with one another — a public image of a functioning, modern family and a private history of interactions with Child Protective Services in Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s what’s known about the Hart family’s actions before its deadly plunge last month from a coastal Highway 1 cliff.
May 23, 2005: Sarah Margaret Gengler, then 26, petitions to change her name to Sarah Margaret Hart, taking the surname of her wife Jen Hart. The two met in college at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
September 2006: Siblings Markis, Abigail and Hannah are adopted from Colorado County, Texas.
February 2009: Jen and Sarah Hart adopt another set of siblings from southeast Texas, this time from Harris County: Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra.
Sept. 8, 2009: Markis, Abigail, Jeremiah, Devonte and Hannah are enrolled in Alexandria, Minnesota, public schools, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
Sept. 7, 2010: Sierra Hart joins her siblings as a kindergartener in the public school system.
Nov. 15, 2010: A report is filed with the Alexandria Police Department, in which Abigail Hart, then in first grade, told her teacher and detectives that Jen Hart put her head under cold water, bent her over the bathtub and hit her with a closed fist, resulting in “owies” to her abdomen and back. Abigail Hart told authorities the discipline was because she found a penny at school and had it in her pocket. When authorities interviewed Sarah Hart about the incident, she said it was her that had delivered the punishment, not Jen Hart, and that 6-year-old Abigail Hart likely said it was Jen Hart because she was mad at her.
Dec. 27, 2010: Sarah Hart is charged with domestic assault and malicious punishment of a child.
April 7, 2011: Sarah Hart pleads guilty to assault, and the malicious punishment of a child charge is dropped.
April 14, 2011: Sarah Hart reaches a probation agreement.
April 15, 2011: All six children are pulled from Alexandria Public Schools and placed in a home school setting.
July 18, 2013: Now residents of West Linn, Oregon, the West Linn Police Department files a report involving the Hart family and refers the case to the Oregon Department of Human Services, which handles child protective services cases. Details of what that report includes are not publicly available.
Nov. 25, 2014: A photograph of Devonte Hart, then 12, hugging a white police officer at a Portland protest, tears streaming down his face, goes viral.
March 20, 2016: The family is photographed onstage at a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Vancouver, Washington.
May 5, 2017: The Hart family buys a home in Woodland, Washington. Friends say the move was a result of unwanted media attention after the photo of Devonte Hart went viral.
March 23, 2018: A social worker for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services attempts to make contact with the family, after a neighbor files a complaint alleging the children were potential victims of abuse or neglect.
March 24, 2018: Cellphone pings indicate the family was in the area of Newport, Oregon about 8:05 a.m.
March 24, 2018: The Harts reach Fort Bragg about 8 p.m.
March 25, 2018: A man is believed to have spotted the Hart family at a knick-knack shop along the highway near Fort Bragg, about 20 miles south of their eventual crash site. Authorities believe they left Fort Bragg at 9 p.m.
March 26, 2018: The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services again attempts to contact the family at its home in Woodside, Washington.
March 26, 2018: The family’s wrecked SUV is spotted by a passing motorist at the bottom of a cliff below a Highway 1 turnout, north of Westport.
March 27, 2018: A third attempt is made to contact the family in Washington.
March 27, 2018: Police identify Jennifer, Sarah, Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail Hart as victims in the crash. Devonte, Hannah and Sierra Hart are still missing.
Source: Compiled from government and court records, and personal interviews with friends, family and police.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine