Update, 1 p.m. Thursday:
They were known as the Hart Tribe, a free-spirited family of two women and their six adopted children who raised their own food, took spontaneous road trips and traveled to festivals and other events, offering free hugs and promoting unity.
All eight were presumed dead after their SUV plunged off a 100-foot cliff along a seaside California highway in a mysterious wreck discovered on Monday — three days after child-welfare authorities were called to the Harts' rural Washington state home to investigate possible abuse or neglect.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash, and the sheriff said there is "no evidence and no reason to believe that this was an intentional act."
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The case has thrown a spotlight on the Hart family's previous run-ins with the law and neighbors' concerns about the youngsters.
- Associated Press
Original story, Wednesday:
Authorities believe six children and their two parents were in an SUV that plunged off a cliff on Highway 1 in Mendocino County on Monday.
So far the bodies of three of the six children have been recovered, as well as the bodies of two adult women, believed to be the children's adoptive parents.
According to the Mendocino Beacon, the SUV was heading south on Highway 1 when it drove into a turnout on the west side of the highway and continued over the edge of a cliff.
The SUV plunged 100 feet and landed on its roof on a large rock, the Associated Press reported. Authorities recovered the bodies of two women, two boys and a girl from the wreckage.
Officials identified the two adults as Jennifer Jean Hart and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 39, the Oregonian reported. The three children were identified Wednesday as Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail Hart, 14, according to a news release from the California Highway Patrol.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart were married and had six adopted children, the CHP said. Authorities began searching for the three missing children after realizing they were unaccounted for.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters authorities believed all of the children had been in the vehicle when it veered off a cliff.
He said specialized crash investigators are studying the scene for clues, but it’s very curious because there were no skid or brake marks. However, Allman said there’s no reason to believe the crash was a deliberate act.
The CHP confirmed that one of the couple's missing children is 15-year-old Devonte Hart, who gained national attention when he was photographed hugging a police officer during a demonstration in Portland in 2014 over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Huffington Post's blog profiled Devonte in November 2014 when his mother, identified as Jen Hart, shared a story on Facebook of Devonte interacting with an elderly man at the grocery store.
The other two missing children are identified as Sierra Hart, 12, and Hannah Hart, 16.
The sheriff on Wednesday appealed for the public’s help in retracing where the family had been in recent days. Allmon said a passer-by called 911 about the crash, but investigators don’t know exactly when the SUV plunged into the ocean.
He said “an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy.”
Authorities were combing the coastline and searching for the children using aircraft and boats, but weren't able to use rescue and recovery divers due to ocean conditions. Divers were on standby if conditions were to improve.
Authorities went to the family's home in Woodland, Washington, to see whether the children were there but did not find them, according to the CHP.
Officials said it appears the family may have left for a temporary trip.
"There were many family belongings still in the home as well as a pet and some chickens," the CHP said.
Their neighbors in Woodland told KOIN that they suspected the children were being abused. The women and their children left their home Friday, shortly after no one answered the door to a visit from Cowlitz County Child Protective Services, according to the Oregonian.