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Body found near crash site in California ID'd as missing Hart child

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MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. — The body of an African American child that was found earlier this month near the scene of a deadly crash has been identified as 12-year-old Ciera Hart, one of Jennifer and Sarah Hart's children.

Authorities say Jennifer was drunk when she drove her family's SUV off a cliff in Mendocino County late last month. No one was wearing seatbelts, and police have said an ingredient found in Benadryl was detected in Sarah's body, as well as two of the children.

So far, authorities have found the bodies of Sarah, Jennifer and four of their children. Two others, 15-year-old Devonte and 16-year-old Hannah remain missing. Police have every reason to believe they were in the SUV with the rest of their family at the time of the crash.

Ciera's body was found on April 7, but it wasn't until Tuesday, April 17 that authorities said they were able to identify her through DNA analysis.

Previous allegations of abuse, neglect

KATU News has reported on several other incidents involving the Hart family that eventually led to an investigation by Washington State Child Protective Services.

In 2017, one of the Hart children jumped out of a second-story window and begged her neighbors for help. She said her parents were racist, abusive and whipped her.

In the weeks leading up to the crash, Devonte Hart went to his neighbor's house several times asking for food, adding his parents were punishing him and not allowing him to eat.

In 2013, a family friend said she "witnessed what I felt to be controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment" toward the six children. Alexandra Argyropoulos said she was told the children had been interviewed by officials but there was nothing more the Oregon Department of Human Services could do because there was not enough evidence to make a case.

After reporting her concerns in 2013, Argyropoulos said, she was told the Hart children had been interviewed by officials from the Oregon department; it was apparent that each child had been coached by their mothers on what to say; and nothing more could be done.

Court records show Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge in Douglas County, Minnesota in 2011. Her plea also led to the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child. One of her daughters, who was 6 years old at the time, showed her teacher she had bruising all over her back and torso.

And in 2008, a report obtained by KATU News says one of their daughters claimed Jennifer beat her using a belt. When confronted by officials, Jennifer and Sarah Hart said the little girl was misbehaving, and added she likely got her bruises from falling down the stairs.

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