The timeline of disturbing allegations against the Harts, the family of eight whose car was driven off a California cliff last month, goes back a decade, and authorities are uncovering more details about the lengths the Hart children went to for help.
The latest revelation concerns an incident that took place four months before the Harts’ SUV careered into the ocean when one of the girls jumped out of a second-story window in her home and ran to a neighbor’s house.
Here’s how the Washington Post described the incident:
Hannah Hart pounded on [Bruce DeKalb’s] door. She was “covered in weeds” after jumping out of the family’s second-story window and running through the woods to reach DeKalb’s house, he said. She ran up DeKalb’s stairs, found the bedroom and woke up DeKalb’s wife, Dana.
“That kid was totally losing her mind, just rattled to the bone,” Bruce DeKalb told The Washington Post. “You can’t fake that.”
Sarah and Jennifer Hart and the rest of their children then rushed into DeKalb’s house, looking for Hannah. They found her upstairs, crouched between the bed and the dresser. After Jennifer Hart spoke with Hannah, she came down and apologized to the DeKalbs.
Neighbor Bruce DeKalb also noted that he thought the teenage girl looked around 7 years old and that she was missing her front teeth.
“They had some story about her getting them knocked out and said she didn’t want them fixed,” he said. Sarah and Jennifer Hart, Hannah’s adoptive parents, told the DeKalbs that Hannah was having a rough week because her cat had died. They also assured the couple that their children were not being abused.
It turns out that the incident was called in by DeKalb’s father-in-law, CNN reports.
He made the call to 911 in November, telling the operator what happened, and adding that she had come in at 2 a.m. “begging them to help her” but didn’t specify why she was scared.
“Then she [one of the parents] had all four of the kids come back later and say everything was OK, and they were all standing at attention like they were all scared to death,” the man told the 911 dispatcher. “And I think there’s something very serious going on there.
“The more I sit on it, I just can’t live with it. Somebody has to go there and check on these kids,” he continued.
CNN notes it’s not clear what, if any, action was taken after he made the call.
A recent op-ed by professor and author Stacey Patton in the Washington Post calls out the “white saviorism” that may have blinded neighbors and friends who suspected that something was wrong but delayed reaching out to authorities.
The DeKalbs said they called child-protective services to the Hart household shortly before the deadly car crash, after a week of 15-year-old Devonte Hart coming to their house daily to ask for food.
“It started out as one time a day and escalated up to three times a day until a week went by and we decided that we needed to get professional help,” DeKalb said.
He called CPS on March 23, and representatives from the agency came to the Harts’ door the same day. No one answered, even though Jennifer Hart had arrived home shortly before authorities arrived.
But Patton notes the furious defenses that have been mounted on behalf of the Harts and points out that a “dominant narrative of white innocence”—specifically, their adoption of black children—contributed to the perception of them as “selfless do-gooders.” She adds that the same caution in reporting and investigating these child abuse allegations doesn’t appear to be exercised when the parents are black.
“We’ve seen black mothers arrested for enrolling their kids in better schools or home-schooling them and charged with child abuse for having their kids wait unattended while they applied for jobs,” Patton writes. “And research shows that black children are overrepresented in the nation’s foster care system in part because of racial bias and discrimination that leads caseworkers and other reporters to judge black parents more harshly than white parents (though there is debate).”
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault in 2011, admitting that she had gotten carried away while disciplining her 6-year-old child. Jennifer Hart was also alleged to have struck one of her kids in the arm in 2008. When authorities asked about the bruising, Sarah and Jennifer said they didn’t know how the bruise got there but told authorities that the child had “food issues, stealing people’s food at school, eating out of garbage cans or off the floor,” CNN reports.