A special coroner's jury in California ruled the deaths of two Washington state women and their six adopted children was a murder-suicide after hearing testimony that one of the women had researched death by drowning online and the other deliberately stepped on the gas, sending their SUV plunging off a cliff. Jurors deliberated for about an hour Thursday before returning the unanimous verdicts that Jennifer and Sarah Hart killed themselves on March 26, 2018, in Mendocino County. The jury decided the six children, 12 to 19, died at the hands of another and not by accident. Authorities had indicated they believed the crash was deliberate but wanted a jury to make official findings, reports the AP. The family had left their home in Woodland after social workers visited.
Sarah Hart researched suicide, drowning, Benadryl dosages, and overdose methods on the internet on the drive to California, California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates said. She also queried whether death by drowning would be painful. Authorities recovered the deleted searches from her phone. Slates said that Jennifer Hart, who rarely drank, had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit and may have been "drinking to build up her courage." Sarah Hart had 42 doses of generic Benadryl in her system and the children also had high amounts of the sleep-inducing drug in their bodies, he said. "It is my belief that both Jennifer and Sarah succumbed to a lot of pressure," sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney said Thursday. "Just a lot of stuff going on in their lives, to the point where they made this conscious decision to end their lives this way and take their children's lives." (Read more testimony in the case.)