A SUV that plunged off a cliff, killing a family of 8 near Mendocino, California, may have been an intentional act, authorities say. A passing motorist noticed the 2003 GMC Yukon overturned on the rocky shoreline about 100 feet below the Pacific Coast Highway on March 26.
A lesbian couple -- Sarah and Jennifer Hart -- and their 8 children died in the crash. The Harts were found strapped in the front seats of the mangled SUV.
None of the children wore seatbelts, and the bodies of three of the children -- Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail Hart, 14 -- were found outside the vehicle.
Software pulled from the wreckage shows the vehicle, driven by Sarah, left the Pacific Coast highway, pulled into a gravel turnout and stopped. The vehicle then sped up and plunged over the cliff. The Yukon did not hit the embankment on the way down, officials say.
The software shows the SUV's speedometer reached 90 mph before it soared over the cliff sometime after child protective services visited the family home in Woodland, Washington on March 23.
CPS officials opened an investigation into the family after Bruce and Dana DeKalb, the Harts' next door neighbors, contacted them to say Devonte Hart, 15, sneaked over to their house to beg for food every day that week.
Devonte is the 12-year-old boy seen hugging a cop and crying in a viral photo taken during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2015.
Devonte said his mothers were withholding food from him and his siblings as punishment. He asked the DeKalbs to place 6 packs of Tortilla chips, some cured meats, apples and 6 jars of peanut butter in a box and hide the box along a fence between the two properties.
DeKalb said Devonte begged him not to call Child Protective Services.
Devonte's visits came months after his adopted sister, Hannah Hart, 16, showed up at the DeKalb's door wrapped in a blanket covered in brambles.
Hannah had jumped out of a second story window and ran through the woods to the Dekalb's home. She told the DeKalbs she was being abused and she needed a ride to the bus station so she could run away. DeKalb said Hannah begged them to rescue her.
“That kid was totally losing her mind, just rattled to the bone,” Bruce DeKalb told The Washington Post. “You can’t fake that.”
He and his wife noticed Hannah was missing her two front teeth.
“They had some story about her getting them knocked out and said she didn’t want them fixed,” DeKalb said.
He said the lesbian couple and their children soon arrived to fetch Hannah. The next morning, the entire family returned and apologized. Sarah handed the DeKalbs a letter signed "Hannah".
He said none of the children spoke and they hung back behind their mothers.
“When kids are coming to the house in the middle of the night, I can’t help but think there’s something wrong,” DeKalb said.
After Devonte showed up at their door the week of March 23, the DeKalbs had enough and contacted CPS.
CPS officials made three visits to the Hart house -- on March 23, 24, and 26, but no one answered the door. The DeKalbs say the Harts loaded the children into the SUV and took off in a hurry after a CPS official knocked on the door and left a minute later.
The family was found wrecked against the rocks 550 miles away from their home.
Searchers have not given up looking for the Hart's 3 missing children -- Hannah, Sierra Hart, 12; and Devonte Hart, 15.
Capt. Greg Baarts of the California Highway Patrol said the three missing children may have been washed out to sea.
"This specific location is very difficult to search because the ocean currents and tides are strong, it's unpredictable, and the murkiness of the water makes it difficult to see," said a spokesman for the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.
The case has renewed the debate about gays adopting vulnerable children. The homosexual community has the highest rates of mental illness and emotional disorders, according to the CDC.
Raising adopted children can be very challenging for people who are already overwhelmed and suffering from depression.
Some states, including Kansas, Texas and Georgia, have backed bills denying adoptions by homosexuals and transgender individuals.