By Katherine Lam
Published April 07, 2019
A friend of Sarah and Jennifer Hart said she “can’t imagine” the couple killing their six adopted children after a jury ruled the family of eight died in a murder-suicide when their SUV plunged off a California cliff in March 2018.
Riannah Weaver told People magazine that she and others who know the Hart couple questioned whether they really knew their former friends who appeared as a close-knit family dubbed the “Hart Tribe.” A jury ruled Thursday that Jennifer and Sarah Hart deliberately killed themselves and their six children — Markis, 19, Hannah, 16, Abigail, 14, Devonte, 15, Jeremiah, 14, and Sierra, 12 — by driving their SUV off a 100-foot cliff in Mendocino County, about 180 miles north of San Francisco.
“Since the beginning of this, and when it first happened, there have been those of us who basically questioned our own sanity,” Weaver told the magazine. “We also questioned, like, how did we not see this if that’s what happened?”
Weaver met the family in 2010 at a fundraiser and said the Hart family “were always together and very wonderful and very approachable. They were just magical.”
The family, however, had been battling abuse allegations in multiple states for years and may have succumbed to a lot of pressure, Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney said Thursday. The family of eight also gained nationwide attention after one of their sons, Devonte Hart, was photographed with tears streaming down his eyes while hugging a police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Ore.
"Just a lot of stuff going on in their lives, to the point where they made this conscious decision to end their lives this way and take their children's lives,” Barney said.
Weaver said Friday that it’s possible the couple made the decision to kill their children and themselves.
“It’s always been this thing that we’ve discussed, like a lot of us [who knew them] discussed that maybe we didn’t know them at all,” Weaver said. “So there’s the possibility that Jen and Sarah had made that decision.”
“But I still can’t imagine them taking the kids on purpose,” she added.
Sarah Hart searched suicide, drowning, Benadryl dosages and overdose methods on the internet throughout the drive to California, California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates said. She also queried whether death by drowning would be painful. Authorities recovered the deleted searches from her phone.
Jennifer Hart, who drove the vehicle off the cliff, was “drinking to build up her courage.” She had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit while her wife, Sarah, had 42 doses of generic Benadryl in her system. The children also had high amounts of the drug in their bodies.
"They both decided that this was going to be the end," Slates said. "That if they can't have their kids that nobody was going to have those kids."
The bodies of siblings Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail were found the same day near the car. Weeks later, the body of Sierra Hart was pulled from the Pacific Ocean. Human remains found in a shoe were matched to Hannah Hart through DNA testing.
Devonte Hart’s body was never located, though he’s been presumed dead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.