Mystery deepens in search for 15-year-old whose photo went viral during the 2014 Ferguson protests
iStock/Thinkstock(PORTLAND, Ore.) — Search and rescue crews are continuing to scour the Northern California coast for 15-year-old Devonte Hart — the boy seen hugging a police officer in a 2014 viral photo during the Ferguson protests — and his two siblings as the mystery into what caused the horrific accident that caused the SUV to drive off a cliff deepens.
At first glance, a photo released by the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday appears to be picturesque, showing a helicopter as it scours over a cliff lining the Pacific Ocean near the city of Mendocino.
But a closer look at the image reveals the central piece of evidence to the deadly crash: an overturned 2003 GMC Yukon XL, whose roof appears to be crushed from landing on the rocks water below when it rolled off the cliff sometime on Monday.
Five people have been confirmed dead from the crash, including Devonte Hart’s parents, Jennifer Hart and Sarah Hart, and three of his siblings, Markis Hart, 19, and Jeremiah and Abigail Hart, both 14.
But crews are no closer in finding Devonte Hart and two other siblings who were believed to be in the car, 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 12-year-old Sierra Hart, the CHP announced Thursday.
More information about the family’s past has begun to surface as the search carries on.
A 2010 complaint filed in Douglas County, Minnesota, reveals that one of the parents — Sarah Hart — was charged with malicious punishment of a child and domestic assault after a 6-year-old child showed a teacher bruises on her stomach and back. Court documents show that Sarah Hart was convicted on the domestic assault charge, but the charge of malicious punishment of a child was dropped.
More recently, neighbors in the Portland suburb of Woodland, Washington, where the family lived, told The Oregonian that Devonte Hart had come to their house several times asking for food.
Devonte Hart told neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb that his parents withheld food as a form of punishment and asked them to leave it by the fence so his parents wouldn’t find out, the newspaper reported. He was the adoptive son of Jennifer hart and Sarah Hart, according to ABC Portland affiliate KATU.
Last week, Child Protective Services in Washington received a call about neglect and abuse by Harts, spokeswoman Norah West said in a press conference today. The agency attempted to make contact with the family in person on Friday, March 23 as well as on Monday and Tuesday, West said.
CPS had no prior history with the family prior to the phone call made to them last week, West said.
California authorities reiterated Thursday that they do not believe the crash was intentional.
A search of the family home led investigators to believe the family had embarked on just a short trip because many of their belongings, as well as their pet cat, chicks and ducks, were still at the home. Nothing was out of ordinary in the home, and there were no signs of violence, officials said.
All six children were believed to have been in the car since the family was known to travel together and no other family members have come forward with knowledge of the missing teens’ whereabouts, according to the CHP.
Investigators are trying to piece together exactly how and when the car drove off the cliff. By the time first responders arrived on the scene on Monday, the engine was cold.
A photo of Devonte Hart hugging a Portland Police officer as his cheek glistened with tears went viral in 2014 amid national protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown and the failure of a Missouri grand jury to indict the officer who shot him.
The officer, Sgt. Bret Barnum, noticed Devonte Hart carrying a sign that read “Free Hugs,” prompting him to ask if he would “get one of those.” Freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen then caught the moment are the pair hugged.
The image — taken on Nov. 25, 2014 when Devonte Hart was 12 years old — was especially poignant due to the civil unrest at the time over police brutality.
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