Murder-Suicide: The Hart Family

In 2006, couple Jennifer Hart and Sarah Gengler decided to foster three siblings; Markis who was 8 years old, Hannah who was 4 years old and Abigail who was 2 years old. Then in 2008, when Hannah was 6 years old she showed up to school with bruises on her arm and told her teacher that she had been whipped with a belt. The incident was reported to the police and the couple were interviewed but no charges were filed. Not long after the incident, the couple decided to foster another three siblings; Devonte who was 5 years old, Jeremiah who was 4 years old and Sierra who was 3 years old.

Then when Abigail was 6 years old, Sarah was charged with malicious punishment of a child and misdemeanor domestic assault after Abigail showed up to school with bruises. In the police report, Abigail says that Jennifer had hurt her because she thought she stole a penny that fell out of her pocket. The other children were interviewed by police also with them all saying that they are often hurt and sent to bed without food. Sarah told police that she had spanked Abigail and Jennifer supported her story. In 2011, Sarah pled guilty and was sentenced to community services and one-year probation.

The couple then decided to pull all six children out of school and move states in 2013 from Minnesota to Oregon, where they started to home school all six children. When they arrived in Oregon, CPS started to get complaints from numerous people anonymously with one complaint saying that the children looked like “trained robots” who seemed to be “scared to death” of Jennifer. Even a friend of the couple called CPS to report that Jennifer ran the children like they were in a “regimented boot camp” and that if the children laughed too loud, she would get angry but the most concerning thing from the report was the friend saying that “true kindness, love and respect for the kids was largely absent”.

Ultimately these reports led to a new case being opened by CPS but it was eventually dismissed and closed after Jennifer told CPS that “the family’s issues stemmed from others not understanding their alternative lifestyle”. However, it’s important to note that the caseworker stated “the problem is these women look normal”.

By mid-2017, the family had moved states once again, this time to Washington but the reports to CPS would continue with their neighbours Bruce and Dana DeKalb saying that one evening at 1:30 am Hannah came to their front door to report that “she needed help” because Jennifer and Sarah “were not treating her properly” the child also said that she wanted them to “protect her” and that the couple were “racists and they abuse us”. This led to the DeKalb’s calling police to report what Hannah had said, as well as the fact that she was missing her two front teeth after being hit with a belt and denied food as a punishment.

Jennifer tried to convince the DeKalb’s that the children were fine and that they had been subjected to bullying because they were black and their two mothers were white, stating that that’s the reason why the children were being homeschooled. Then Devonte started and would continue to show up to the DeKalb’s door asking for food and eventually telling Dana that the children were not being fed by their mothers. The DeKalb’s made another report to CPS on March 23rd, 2018 but when CPS knocked on the front door of the Hart household there was no answer and the next day the family had left the home.

On March 26th, 2018 Jennifer who was intoxicated, drove the family GMC Yukon XL SUV with her wife and six children in it off a 30-metre cliff in Northern California. The couple and five of their six children’s bodies were recovered from the car or near the car, Devonte’s body has never been recovered but a judge ruled that he was in the car at the time of the crash and a death certificate was issued.

A toxicology report showed that Jennifer had a blood alcohol reading of 0.102 and that Sarah and two of their children had diphenhydramine in their system, which is an ingredient commonly found in Benadryl. Authorities also discovered that before the crash, Sarah had conducted numerous the following Google searches:

“How easily can I overdose on over the counter medications?”

“Can 500mg of Benadryl kill a 125lb woman?”

“How long does it take to die from hypothermia while drowning in a car?”

A 14 person coroner’s jury unanimously found that the couple intentionally killed themselves and their six children, ruling that the case was a murder-suicide. In 2019, the sheriff of Mendocino County officially closed the case.

Rest In Peace:

Markis, 19

Jeremiah, 14

Abigail, 14

Devonte, 15

Hannah, 16

Sierra, 12

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