A special coroner’s jury ruled Thursday, that a Woodland, Wash., couple, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, who drove themselves and their six adopted children off a 100-foot cliff in North California last year—did so deliberately.
“The death certificates for Jennifer and Sarah Hart will be listed as suicide,” Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Thomas Allman told reporters Thursday. “The six children who perished on that day, their deaths, certainly as a jury ruled, was determined to be at the hands of another, other than by accident, and their death certificates will list homicide as the manner of death.”
However, the details surrounding the car crash are even more disturbing.
According to CBS News, forensic pathologist Dr. Greg Pizarro told the inquest jury that Jennifer Hart’s blood alcohol level was 0.102 at the scene of the crash, well beyond the limit of 0.08 in California. He also testified that Sarah Hart had near toxic levels of Benadryl in her system at the time of death.
USA Today reports that the couple gave their six adopted children as many as 19 doses of Benadryl prior to purposely driving their SUV over a steep cliff and into the Pacific Ocean.
“The children were more than likely unconscious,” California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates said. “They both decided that this was going to be the end. That if they can’t have their kids that nobody was going to have those kids.”
Slates testified that deleted searches had been recovered from Sarah’s phone, including searches for information on drowning and hypothermia. USA Today reports:
California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates testified that the deleted searches had been recovered from her phone, The Oregonian reported. They included these questions:
“Can 500 mgs of Benadryl kill a 120-pound woman?”
“Is death by drowning relatively painless?”
“How long does it take to die from hypothermia while drowning in a car?”
The case has drawn significant interest, in part because the two white mothers went to great lengths to portray their multi-racial family as both harmonious and happy.
However, the case began to unravel in March of last year after a neighbor filed a complaint with the state saying the children were being deprived of food as punishment. As a result, social workers visited the home to investigate the accusations of child neglect, and the family fled their home in response.
“It is my belief that both Jennifer and Sarah succumbed to a lot of pressure,” sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney told the Associated Press. “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.”
The bodies of 19-year-old Markis and 14-year-olds Jeremiah and Abigail were discovered outside of the SUV at the site of the crash. The remains of Ciera, 12, were found weeks later in the Pacific Ocean, but the New York Post reports her body was too decomposed to make a definitive ruling as to how she died.
A foot belonging to 16-year-old Hannah was found on a northern California beach, while the remains of Devonte, the family’s sixth child, have yet to be found.
Devonte Hart, 15, is best remembered for this picture in which he was photographed hugging a police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Ore.
Since there is no prosecution involved in the case, authorities hope that the jury’s verdict can begin the healing process and bring closure to those who were close to the Hart family.
“The blood relatives and adopted relatives of the entire family,” Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Thomas Allman said, “Those are the people who I certainly want to tell you that our hearts are with you.”