Dear Lashaun Armstrong,
You are 10 years old, the same age as my son. You are probably in the 4th grade at some school that gives out too much homework. I’m willing to bet that you try and get out of it just as much as my son does – as much as any 10 year old 4th grader would. Maybe you play sports, or prefer video games to anything else. You may even hide your veggies under your plate just so you can get dessert after dinner.
I read about you in the news today. I read that you are the oldest of 3 younger siblings, and all of you have names that start with the letter L – Landon Pierce, 5; Lance Pierre, 2; and Lainaina Pierre, 11 months old. Being the oldest probably made you grow up fast. I know my daughter did when her brother was born 10 years ago. But by the time your youngest sister was born, I bet you were a pro at helping out with the baby stuff. Nevertheless, if you’re anything like my daughter, I’m also betting you’re a pro at the fine art of teasing your younger siblings even as you feel protective over them as the oldest.
And your family fights. A lot. At least that’s what I gather by the domestic dispute mentioned in that same article. I imagine that has also made you grow up a lot, hearing the yelling and screaming, maybe even the hitting. Have you had to talk to the police after your mom and stepdad fought? Were you there when the police were called during the last argument they had last night?
Newburgh officials described a tragedy that unfolded rapidly around dinnertime on Tuesday night. Chief Ferrara said that a relative of Ms. Armstrong’s had called the police around 7:30 p.m., “saying they believed Lashandra Armstrong was involved in a domestic dispute” with the father of three of her four children. Chief Ferrara said the caller reported hearing “tussling in the background.”
He said officers were sent to her home, but it was too late: No one was there.
I wonder what you were thinking when your mom gathered all of you up to drive away from the house. At 10 years old, you probably knew more than your younger siblings did about hurt, and anger, and why your mom was crying in the driver’s seat. Did you worry about whether you’d see your stepdad again, or the bedroom where all your stuff was? Were you afraid? Or was this something that happened often? Did you reassure your brothers and sisters as you all drove away from your house?
And did you realize something was different this time when your mother drove off the road and headed down a pier at full speed towards the river?
A 10-year-old boy escaped and swam ashore after his mother deliberately drove their minivan off a boat ramp and into the Hudson River in Newburgh, N.Y., on Tuesday night, the police said. The mother and three younger children who were trapped in the minivan died.
The police said the driver’s-side window was down when the doomed minivan was towed from the water, suggesting that the boy, identified as Lashaun Armstrong, had crawled past his mother as he scrambled to get out.
I can’t help but feel haunted reading about your mother driving into the river with you and your three younger brothers and sisters in the car. You knew what was going to happen, that was apparent by reports of you getting the window down before the car hit the water. But at 10 years old, swimming past your drowning mother and siblings to save your own life is way too big of a burden for you to bear. Did she see you escaping the vehicle? Did you question why your own mother would do this? Were you confused? Did this change your whole view on mothers, family, life, and everything you thought you knew in your 10 years of life?
Michael Ferrara, the Newburgh police chief, identified the mother as Lashandra Armstrong, 25. Inside, along with Ms. Armstrong, were her three young children, identified by the police as Landon Pierce, 5; Lance Pierre, 2; and Lainaina Pierre, 11 months old. All had died, Chief Ferrara said.
What is going on in your 10 year old head now? Are you beating yourself up for not saving your younger siblings? Are you replaying that memory over and over wondering what you could have done to stop the car before it even hit the water? Have you lost all trust that most 10 year olds have, that all 10 year olds SHOULD have, that parents are there to guide you and keep you safe – not drive you and your sisters and brothers into a river to drown?
He said the 10-year-old had been in the minivan when Ms. Armstrong steered the car off the boat ramp and into the river a few blocks from the row-house apartment where they lived. Lashaun “managed to hit the power windows,” Chief Ferrara said, and “climbed out before the vehicle sank.”
What haunts me most is what I can only imagine all of your reactions were as your mother attempted to take all of your lives, and succeeded except for you. I think of you screaming at her to stop, of your sisters and brothers crying, of her feeling there was no other option in her out-of-control state but to end her own life and the lives of her children. I want to cry when I think of you saving your life without being able to help the rest of your family – even your own mother who you loved, and who I know you still love despite what I’m sure is anger eating away at your 10 year old heart.
A woman and a 10-year-old boy appeared at a firehouse and said that a car had driven into the river.
The boy was soaking wet, Chief Vatter said, and firefighters “subsequently learned” that the boy had been in the minivan. The woman with him at the firehouse had picked up him after he had made it to shore and had driven him there to get help, the chief said.
Soon firefighters and state police divers were searching the river. It took about an hour to find the submerged minivan, which officials said was under eight feet of murky water about 25 feet from the shore.
Lashaun, you are only 10. And I am so sorry.
(article quoted from the NY Times, written by James Barron with contributing reporting by Nate Schweber)
Update: According to a NY Post article, contributions for LaShaun Armstrong can be sent to LaShaun’s great-aunt Angela Gilliam at 125 Lakeview Village, Spring Valley, NY 10977.