Devonte Hart was just 12 years old when he was thrust into the national spotlight. The young black boy was photographed with tears streaming down his face as he embraced a white police officer during a 2014 Ferguson protest. The image became known as the "hug felt 'round the world."
Years after the photo went viral, Devonte was back in the headlines for much more tragic reasons. On March 26, 2018, his family's SUV plunged off a cliff in Mendocino County, California, killing all seven members of his family. The bodies of Devonte's adoptive parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, were found near the crash site, as were the bodies of his siblings: Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; Abigail Hart, 14; Hannah Hart; Sierra Hart, 12. Devonte remains missing one year later, but has been legally declared dead, according to Mendocino Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman.
"The most logical place for him was to be in the car,” Allman recently told People magazine. "[This] has happened before when there’s no body found."
Allman said he will sign Devonte's death certificate next week, after authorities hold a public inquest into the deaths of the Hart family. As part of the two-day inquest, which will be livestreamed April 3 and 4, investigators will present new evidence concerning the Hart case. A special jury will then decide on the manner of death for each family member.
"There is a heaping amount of evidence and honestly it belongs to the public," Allman said. "There's just so many unknowns on this, but now we think we know a lot of the unknowns."
It's suspected the driver of the SUV, Jennifer Hart, intentionally drove the vehicle off the cliff, as investigators found no evidence that she applied the brakes before the crash. This theory is supported by the parents' history of child abuse, as well as statements provided by the family's friends and neighbors.