The Black teenage boy who was thrust into the social media spotlight when a photo of him tearfully embracing a Portland police officer went viral is missing and feared to be dead after his family’s SUV drove off a Northern California coast.
Officials believe 15-year-old was in the car the plunged over the edge rocky cliff on Monday, killing his adoptive parents and at least three of his five other siblings, reported The Oregonian.
On Wednesday, police continued to search the crash scene in an effort to find the bodies of the three children that have yet to be found, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said in a press conference.
In 2014, Devonte’s viral photograph, taken at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, resulted in his family being placed under the microscope by the media. This uptick in attention may have been the reason the Hart family fled Washington State, the authorities said on Wednesday.
After the horrific crash on Monday, Devonte’s adoptive mothers—Jennifer Jean Hart, and Sarah Margaret Hart—as well as three of his siblings—Markis, 19, Abigail, 14, and Jeremiah, 14—were all found dead at the scene.
The sheriff's office said they can't find Devonte, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12.
Although authorities assumed all the children were in the car, they did not rule out the possibility that some of them were with friends. Police also have not said the crash was intentional; however, Sheriff Allman did admit many questions about the “accident” were still unknown.
“We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there, however only three bodies have been recovered,” said Sheriff Tom Allman of Mendocino County. “We have no evidence and no reason to believe this was an intentional act. Certainly people are wondering what caused this.”
Allman also admitted the S.U.V. drive across at least 75 feet of dirt before plunging over the cliff and there was no visible skid or brake marks, reported the New York Times.
Additionally, reports of abuse and neglect in the Hart household have surfaced.
Washington State Child Protective Services recently learned of abuse allegations against the Harts and tried to make contact with them on Friday, but were unsuccessful, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Social and Health Services, told the Times.
A neighbor of the Harts in Woodland, Wash., Dana DeKalb, told the NBC affiliate KGW that Devonte recently would come over to her home several times a day to ask for food.
According to DeKalb, Devonte said his mothers sometimes withheld food from the children as punishment.
DeKalb said she was the one who brought the family to the attention of Child Protective Services. She told KGW that when an employee from the children’s agency visited on Friday, the Harts refused to answer the door, and that the family left hours later.
(Photo: Pgiam/Getty Images)
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