(Reuters) - A 16-year-old African-American girl told neighbors her white mothers were "racist" and that she was "whipped with belts" about six months before one of them is believed to have deliberately driven the family of eight off a California cliff, killing them all, Washington State records showed.
The girl's 15-year-old brother also begged neighbors in March not to tell police his mothers were depriving the children of food as punishment because he feared the family would be split up, according to the records of allegations by the neighbors to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
On March 26, Jennifer Hart, 38, is thought to have intentionally driven a sports utility vehicle carrying her partner Sarah and their six adopted black children off a California coastal cliff.
The Washington records show the mothers were under investigation for at least a third time in the last seven years for potential child abuse when they bolted from their Woodland, Washington State home on March 23.
One of the mothers was convicted in 2011 for assaulting a daughter in Minnesota, while in Oregon in 2013 police investigated allegations that the two women were emotionally abusing and cruelly punishing their children, according to West Linn police records.
"He said not to call the cops because they would be split up and he mentioned they go for long periods of time without food 'and they are just hungry'," a neighbor said Devonte Hart, 15, told him, according to the Washington records.
Hannah Hart, 16, fled the home one night and told the neighbors "the moms were racist and were abusing her" and that "she was being whipped with belts," the records showed.
Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb told local media they alerted social services to their concerns on March 23. Dana DeKalb said she could not immediately comment on Thursday.
Authorities visited the Hart home on March 23 but got no response. Soon after, the family emerged from the house, packed up their brown GMC Yukon and drove off, a witness said, according to the records.
They left behind a cat, chickens and what appeared to be chicks under a heat lamp, according to an investigator who called animal control, the records showed.
Among the last communication with the Harts may have been a text message mother Sarah Hart, 38, sent two days before the crash, telling a friend she was feeling sick and would not be at work, said a spokeswoman for Clark County Regional Emergency Services.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O'Brien)