The police officer pictured in a viral photo hugging Devonte Hart, the teen who is missing after his family’s car careened off a California highway Wednesday, has spoken out about the deadly crash and the impression the kindhearted boy made on him.
"The tragic news about Devonte and his family deeply saddens me," Sgt. Bret Barnum of the Portland, Ore., police told Inside Edition. "The short interaction with Devonte reinforced my love, passion and duty in providing service to my community."
Barnum was pictured comforting Devonte at a rally held November 2014 in response to the lack of charges filed against the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Devonte had earlier been carrying a "free hugs" sign, and the pair's interaction became the focus of a viral photo.
Crews are now searching for Devonte, along with 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 12-year-old Sierra Hart, after their family’s car plummeted off a cliff near Mendocino.
The missing children’s parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and their three other siblings were confirmed to have died in the crash, the cause of which Mendocino Sheriff officials say they are still working to determine.
“We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there, however only three bodies have been recovered,” Sheriff Tom Allman said at a press conference Wednesday. “The best news that we can say is that three of these victims were left with friends and they were not even in the car at the time it went over the bay... Did we have six kids in the car or did we have three kids as it came on Highway 1? We don’t know the answer."