Last September, Glamour reported on the tragic story of the Harts—mothers Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and their six adopted children. On social media, Jen Hart portrayed the image of a happy, post-racial American family, but what was going on inside their Woodland, home turned out to be something very different.
Jen, Sarah and their children Markis, 19, Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, Abigail, 14, Jeremiah, 14, and Sierra, 12 (two sets of black biological siblings) were often referred to as the “Hart Tribe.” But on March 26, 2018, their car was found at the bottom of a cliff off of California’s Highway 1.
In the coroner’s inquest today at the Willitts Justice Center in California, investigators have revealed the timeline of what happened in the family’s final hours. Among the new details revealed in testimony today: toxicology reports of exactly what was in the system of each family member when the Yukon plummeted off the cliff. Evidence presented showed that many members of the family were most likely heavily sedated, with Sarah Hart, who investigators say was in the passenger seat, having the equivalent of 42 single doses of diphenhydramine, a Benadryl-like drug, in her system.
Jennifer Hart was driving—and was legally drunk—but didn’t show signs of having taken diphenhydramine. Investigators revealed that the family had purchased an Equate-branded version at a Walmart in Washington state shortly after leaving their Washington house on March 23, 2018, before continuing down the Pacific coast. Both liquid and pill versions of the drug were found in the family’s car.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jake Slates, the lead investigator on the case, testified that by his calculations, Markis Hart had taken the equivalent of more than 19 doses, Abigail Hart had taken 14 doses, and Jeremiah Hart had taken more than 8 single doses. Slates said that Sarah would have likely been “intoxicated” by the amount she had taken, and the kids would “more than likely be unconscious or asleep.”
The body of Devonte Hart, the teen featured in a photo hugging a cop that went viral, is still missing, though he was officially pronounced dead in California court in March.
Investigators also concluded that no one had been wearing a seatbelt, and Jen had accelerated the car before going off the cliff.
Early after the accident, the county sheriff said he suspected criminal intent. “I’m to the point where I no longer am calling this as an accident,” he said. “I’m calling it a crime.” The mystery of what happened to the Harts, the possible warning signs that alerted some of their neighbors, and the ongoing investigation by law enforcement are documented in Glamour‘s podcast, Broken Harts.
At the inquest, a jury of 14 will decide the manner of death for each family member. “There’s one question that nobody will ever answer: that’s why,” Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman told Glamour. Why Jen drove over that cliff, why Jen and Sarah made the decisions that led up to that day and that moment. “We can tell you what, almost when, where, we can tell you who, but as an adult whose brother has committed suicide many years ago, I’ve learned that sometimes the question why can never be answered. We can give people reason to find their own answer, but there won’t be any black and white answer to why.” While authorities did not disclose some evidence was not disclosed over the past several months as they investigated the crash, that’s no longer the case: “There is no reason for one percent of what we know to be withheld,” Allman said. “Everything we know we’re throwing out there.”