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Teenager photographed hugging policeman during Ferguson protests feared dead after family car crash


A teenager who gained international attention when he was photographed hugging anofficer during protests against police racism is feared dead after his familys car plunged from a cliff.

Authoritiesbelieve 15-year-old Devonte Hart was with his parents and four siblings when their vehicle drove off a California road and landed upturned on the rocks below.

Friends described married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart as loving parents, thoughneighbours recently contacted social services over concernsthey were abusing their children.

Investigators told journalists no skid or break marks werefound on the road that snakes along the Pacific coast, but said there was nothing to indicate the crash was intentional.

The 100-foot (31m) drop killed the women, both aged 39, and their children Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14. Police believe all eightfamily members died in the crash, but rescuers on Thursday continued to search for Devonte; 16-year-old Hannah Hartand Sierra Hart, 12.

We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there, said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, adding: We know that an entire family vanished and perished during this tragedy.

Investigators were trying to find out why the family car careenedoff the ocean road, MrAllman added.

Devonte was 12 when he was photographed during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over a grand jurys decision not to charge a police officer over the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. The teenager held a Free Hugs sign and cried at the protest. One Portland officer saw his sign and asked if he could have a hug.

A photo of their embrace was widely shared on social media and was used of an example of interracial harmony at a time when relations were strained.

At the time, Jennifer Hart wrote on social media: My son has a heart of gold, compassion beyond anything Ive ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police…He wonders if someday when he no longer wears a Free Hugs sign around his neck, when hes a full-grown black male, if his life will be in danger for simply being.

The Harts lived in Woodland, Washington, a small city outside Portland, Oregon, and had a recent visit from Child Protective Services, Clark County sheriffs Sergeant Brent Waddell said.

He said the sheriffs officefound no obvious signs of trouble or violence at their house. It appeared the family only planned on taking a short trip because they left behind a pet, chickens and most of their belongings.

Nextdoor neighbours Bruce and Dana DeKalb said they called social services on Friday because they were concerned Devonte was not being fed properly. He had come over to their housea number of times that week asking for food, they said.

The DeKalbs also said one of the daughters had rang their doorbell one nightlast year complaining of abuse.

She was at our door in a blanket saying we needed to protect her, Mr DeKalb said. She said that they were abusing her. It haunted my wife since that day.

In 2011, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota. Her plea led to the dismissal of a charge of malicious punishment of a child, according to online court records.

Bill Groener, 67, was aneighbour of the family when they lived in West Linn, Oregon, and said the kids were educated at home.

They stayed indoors most of the time, even in really nice weather, Mr Groener said. Privacy was a big thing for them.

The family did not eat sugar, grew their own vegetables, had animals and went on camping trips, according to Mr Groener.

There was enough positive there to kind of counteract the feeling that something maybe wasnt quite right, he said.

The family went to festivals in the area including events for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and were known for wearing matching T-shirts.

Zippy Lomax, a Portland photographer who knew the Harts, told The Oregonian the reaction to the 2014 photo overwhelmed them, with negative comments made about them being a multiracial family with lesbian parents.

They kind of closed off for a while, honestly, Ms Lomax told the newspaper. But she added:Jen and Sarah were the kind of parents this world desperately needs.

Associated Press contributed to this report



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