They Called CPS on 'Free Hugs' Boy's Family. Then, Tragedy

'I was trying to … protect them and this is the result,' neighbor says after fatal car crash
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2018 8:40 AM CDT
In this Nov. 25, 2014, photo, Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a rally in Portland, Ore., where people had gathered in support of the protests in Ferguson, Mo.   (AP Photo/Johnny Huu Nguyen)
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(Newser) – The search is still on for 15-year-old Devonte Hart and two of his siblings after the SUV they were believed to be in with their adoptive parents and three other siblings went over a cliff in California (those five were found dead at the scene). But it's allegations about their family life that are now making headlines, and neighbors who said they reported the family to authorities are now offering more details. Bruce and Dana DeKalb of Woodland, Wash., mention two incidents to the Washington Post that finally prompted them to call CPS. The first happened last year when one of Jennifer and Sarah Hart's teen daughters pounded on their door one night, "covered in weeds" and "rattled to the bone" after reportedly jumping out a second-story window, per Bruce DeKalb. Her parents later said she was just upset because her cat had died.

In mid-March, Devonte—the "Free Hugs" boy whose photo of him embracing a cop at a Ferguson rally went viral—started begging the DeKalbs for food and saying he was being "starved to death," per CBS News. Another neighbor tells CNN the kids were homeschooled and rarely seen outside. The DeKalbs say they called CPS last Friday and that the Harts didn't answer the door when CPS came knocking. "I was trying to … protect them and this is the result," Dana DeKalb tells CBS. Court records show Sarah Hart was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault in Minnesota in 2011, having "admitted that she let her anger get out of control" while spanking one of her kids, per the New York Times. The Harts' friends counter that their home was a joyous one. "Jen and Sarah really were the kind of parents that I think the world desperately needs," one friend tells KOIN.

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