California Family Crash: Hart Parents Died by Suicide, 6 Children Were Murdered

An inquest by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office has ruled that the deaths of Jennifer and Sarah Hart were suicides, while their six children “died at the hands of another,” PEOPLE confirms.

A 14-member jury was presented with the evidence, and took less than an hour to decide that the six children — Markis, Jeremiah, Abigail, Devonte, Ciera and Hannah Hart — had been intentionally killed by their adoptive parents.

On March 26, 2018, an SUV belonging to the Harts, a married couple from Woodland, Washington, was found at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California.

The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah, as well as three of their six children were found nearby.

The remains of two of the other kids were recovered in the coming months when the body of Ciera Hart was found near the crash site last April. Hannah Hart’s remains were not identified until January 2019. The remains of Devonte Hart, 15, have still not been recovered, though Mendocino Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman recently told PEOPLE that Devonte has been legally declared dead.

The crash sparked national headlines when authorities announced the fatal car crash was a crime —  not an accident. The family’s picture-perfect online image also drew debate, as disturbing details leaked out about the realities the children had experienced at home.

The inquest was livestreamed on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. 

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Three days before the crash was reported, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services received a call reporting that the six Hart children appeared to be “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect,” Norah West, the department’s spokeswoman, previously told PEOPLE.

The state’s DSHS tried unsuccessfully to contact the family on three occasions, the first on March 23, 2018. They tried again on March 26 and March 27, not realizing the family had perished in the crash.

After the inquest, one of the jurors spoke out about the case, saying he was “kind of in pain” while sitting through the proceedings.

Juror Tony Howard told reporters that the reality of the violent deaths was difficult to hear.

“I’m going to be really honest with you guys,” Howard told reporters, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Coming up with the decision wasn’t the hard part. Dealing with the whole tragedy was the hard part.”

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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