Boy in viral Ferguson photo feared dead in mysterious car crash amid disturbing reports of abuse

Authorities fear a boy known for hugging a police officer in a viral photo related to the Ferguson, Mo. riots, was killed in a fatal car accident.

Fifteen-year-old Devonte Hart and two of his sisters were missing after a Monday wreck in which their family’s vehicle drove off a Northern California cliff, killing their adoptive parents and three of their siblings, ABC News reports.

Devonte, known for offering “free hugs” at the political events his parents took him to, was captured on camera embracing a Portland policeman at a protest of the shooting of Ferguson’s Michael Brown.

Devonte and his sisters, Hannah and Sierra, were being searched for by California Highway Patrol and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office after a family vehicle was found having fallen 75 feet into the Pacific Ocean.

The scene was called “confusing,” in part due to the lack of break or skid marks. Authorities said they had “no reason to believe” the act was intentional.

This photo shows a helicopter hovering over the scene where a vehicle plunged off a cliff in Northern California. Authorities identified the adult victims Wednesday as Jennifer Hart and Sarah Hart, who died along with a few other children. (California Highway Patrol via AP).

According to KATU, Child Protective Services visited the Hart’s Washington home three times before the accident. Jennifer and Sarah Hart were a lesbian couple who adopted all of their children from troubled homes.

Court records showed that Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge in 2011. The guilty plea prompted the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child.

CPS identified the Hart children as “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect.”

Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb told KATU that one of the children was regularly at their home begging for food.

KGW reporter John Tierney confirmed that the child asking for food was Devonte. Tierney also provided further details of the alleged abuse.

The DeKalbs told KTVU that one of the Hart girls rang their doorbell around 1:30 am last May.

“(She) was at our door in a blanket saying we needed to protect her. She said that they were abusing her. It haunted my wife since that day,” Mr. DeKalb said.

Friends of the family offered a different depiction of the family.

(California Highway Patrol via AP).

Ian Sperling wrote about the couple on Facebook:

“Jen and Sarah Hart were raising the most remarkable six children that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. These six children came from the most outrageously messed up families that you can imagine. These amazing women came and rescued all six of them. Showered them with love and all six kids were turning into the best humans you can ever imagine.”

Jennifer and Sarah Hart. (Photo: Facebook).

Police say it’s likely Devonte and his two sisters were killed, but that they hold out hope the teenagers survived the crash.


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