The car was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff in California with no obvious skid marks at the scene as police investigate the cause of the crash
A couple and their six children have died after their car plunged 100ft off a cliff in California just days after child services tried to visit the family home.
Investigators “don’t know” if Jennifer Hart, who was behind the wheel, deliberately drove her wife Sarah and their six adopted kids – aged from 12 to 19 – into the sea.
The family are believed to have been on a short break from their home in Portland, Oregon, when the tragedy happened overnight.
Neighbours of the Harts have told US media that they suspected the children may have been abused with child protective services visiting the family home last Friday, but getting no answer.
A neighbour told KOIN (6) that shortly after the visit the couple and all six kids hurried off.
Officers have found the bodies of three of the children – Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and 14-year-old Abigail Hart – and both the women, aged 39.
But rescue teams are continuing to search for Hannah Hart, 16, Devonte Hart, 15, and Sierra Hart, 12, who they believe were also in the car.
Dana DeKalb told KGWNews that Devonte had come next door more than a dozen times begging for food, saying his parents withheld it as “punishment.”
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon said: “We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there.
“We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy.”
One of the missing children – Devonte – gained widespread attention when he was photographed hugging a white officer during a 2014 protest over a fatal police shooting of a black man.
The California Highway Patrol has not determined why the vehicle went off the ocean overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway, about 150 miles north of San Francisco.
The sheriff said: “There were no skid marks, there were no brake marks.”
However, he added that investigators have no reason to believe the crash was intentional.
The mothers were wearing seatbelts but the children were not, according to The Press Democrat.
An California Highway Patrol official told People they “don’t know” whether Jennifer intentionally drove the car off the cliff.
Officers were called at about 3.40pm after a passerby spotted the SUV on the rocks below, but investigators have been unable to determine exactly what time the crash happened.
Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said the family recently had a visit from Child Protective Services, but later entered the house and found no obvious signs of trouble or violence.
Sarah Hart had pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota in 2011.
Her plea also led to the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child, online court records say.
A former neighbour, Bill Groener, 67, described the siblings as foster children, adding: “They were friendly enough. The kids were all home-schooled. They stayed indoors most of the time, even in really nice weather.”
He said the family didn’t eat sugar, raised their own vegetables, had animals and went on camping trips.
Mr Groener said they were neighbours for about two years and that “privacy was a big thing for them.”
Zippy Lomax, a photographer who knew the family, told Oregonlive.com the Harts frequently travelled to festivals and shows and that “Jen and Sarah were the kind of parents this world desperately needs.”
She said: “I’m sure they were going somewhere special and fun.”
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