(KMSP) - A Washington family with Minnesota ties is believed dead after their SUV drove off a cliff in California. Authorities are still searching for three of the children.
The family called themselves the Hart tribe: two moms, Sarah and Jen, and their six adopted children.
Monday, a passerby found the family’s SUV crumpled on the rocky shore along the Pacific Coast Highway in California. The vehicle had gone off the side of a 100-foot cliff. Investigators are working to find out what happened, as there are no signs of braking or skidding at the scene. Authorities say they also have no reason to believe the crash was deliberate.
"It still doesn’t feel real,” said Shawna Burton-Prendiz, a family friend.
The family’s friends in Minnesota are also searching for answers. The Harts once lived in Alexandria and still attended the annual Project Earth festival in Geneva.
"Their children made other children feel comfortable in the community,” said Kelsie Horning, a family friend.
Their son, Devonte, who is still missing, made headlines two years ago after a photographer took a picture of him hugging a police officer at a Portland, Oregon protest. The public spotlight also led to harassment on social media.
"Everything from he's an actor to ignorant or racist,” said Shawn Schuchard, a family friend.
There was also concern from Hart's neighbors in Washington, who called Child Protective Services a few days ago, after one of their home-schooled children came over afraid and hungry.
In Minnesota, Sara Hart was charged with child abuse eight years ago, after a spanking left bruises. The case was later plea bargained to misdemeanor domestic assault. She got probation.
"Whatever rumors and all those things that's always going to happen,” said Shawna Burton-Prendiz.
The Hart's friends say they never saw the children harmed in any way and can't imagine it happening. In the absence of answers, they're focusing on remembering the family that offered love, without conditions.
“When people like that who cross to the other side they become angels,” said Schuchard.
Child protection workers in Washington were looking for the family when they vanished, but the family may not have been aware of that.