Memorials growing for family in Hudson tragedy

April 15, 2011 3:51:01 AM PDT
A family and community are struggling with the tragedy of a woman who drowned herself and her three young children in the Hudson River. They have been attending small prayer services and vigils near the water's edge. Now, new details are emerging from Newburgh about the family's final moments and the young survivor who escaped.

Family members in Rockland County had called police after getting a distressed phone call from 25-year-old Lashanda Armstrong during a heated argument with her boyfriend, 26-year-old Jean Pierre.

Armstrong then drove her minivan off a boat ramp in Newburgh into the Hudson River with all four of her children inside.

Thursday, Eyewitness News spoke to Armstrong's mother, and brother. "I'm not doing good, my father died in January now in four months I lost three generations of my family, everyday is a struggle for me," said Datrice Armstrong.

As the car sank, Armstrong's 10-year-old son Lashaun Armstrong managed to open a window, climb out and swim to shore. A Good Samaritan, Mavis Ryan, spotted the shivering boy and drove him to the fire department.

"He just kept repeating, 'Please, help my mommy, help my mommy. She's in the water,'" dispatcher Ismael Torres said.

Torres tried to get information about where firefighters would find the car.

"The little boy was unable to give me any answers," he said. "You could tell the condition he was in. He was in a state of shock, disbelief. He was very nervous, and he just stated that he was in the water."

Torres sent rescue crews, which found the submerged minivan. Inside were the bodies of Armstrong, 5-year-old Landon Pierre, 2-year-old Lance Pierre and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre.

"What were the little ones like? Little grasshoppers, springs full of life and just wish they could have enjoyed it longer," said Lashanda's brother, Lenny.

So far the most chilling account has been from Meave Ryan, the Good Samaritan who encountered Lashaun just moments after he escaped from the sinking minivan.

"As the car was going into the water slowly, she went into the middle row of the back seat and held all of the children together, and said, 'If I'm going to die, you're all going to die with me,'" Ryan said. "She said that two or three times."

Armstrong had been arguing with the father of her three youngest children earlier in the afternoon, Later, after making her deadly decision, she had an apparent change of heart.

"As water was coming into the car, she said, 'I made a mistake, I made a mistake,'" Ryan said.

Even Lashanda's last words written on her Facebook page were haunting: "I'm sorry everyone forgive me please for what I'm gonna do, this is it!"

Forensic experts say that in their delusional state, depressed and suicidal mothers sometimes think they are doing the loving thing by taking their children with them.

Lashaun Armstrong suffered from mild hypothermia and is staying with family members.

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