NEWBURGH, N.Y. — Police say a 10-year-old boy escaped through the window of a minivan as his mother intentionally drove herself and three other children into New York's Hudson River.
A drenched and shaken Lashaun Armstrong stumbled into the Newburgh Fire Department at about 7:50 p.m. local time on Tuesday, police said.
"The boy reported that his mother had driven the car into the river," said Newburgh Police Chief Michael Ferrara.
It appeared the children were alive when the mother "intentionally drove the car into the river," he said.
Dead in the vehicle were LaShanda Armstrong, 25, her sons Landon Pierce, 5, and Lance Pierre, 2, and daughter, Lainaina Pierce, 11 months, authorities said.
Her son Lashaun, who has a different father from the three other children, escaped the submerged car by opening a window and was picked up by a passerby, who drove him to the fire department.
Authorities said the van was completely submerged on a dark and rainy night and, had the 10-year-old boy not found his way out, the disappearance of the family would likely have been labeled a missing persons case for quite some time.
Lashaun told firefighters his mother had driven off a boat ramp in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, and into the murky water of the river, Newburgh Fire Chief Michael Vatter said.
Firefighters and police officers responded with boats. Divers searched for the minivan for about an hour before finding it submerged 25 yards offshore in nearly 8 feet of water. They used a heavy-duty tow truck to pull it up the boat ramp and onto land.
"It's a horrible sight, all of them in the car," Ferrara said.
Altercation minutes before
A short while before the child showed up at the fire station in dripping wet clothes, one of the mother's relatives had alerted police about a possible domestic dispute at Armstrong's home, Ferrara said.
"There was tussling in the background but also a history of domestic problems in the past," Ferrara said.
Authorities said the children's father, Jean Pierre, did not live in the home. They are seeking him for questioning, police said.
One neighbor, Jim Simeon, said he would often hear sounds of children playing in the home upstairs, but added he had not spoken to the family.
"The kids play, but not fighting ... It's terrible," he told The Times Herald-Record.
'A good mom'
Several neighbors on Wednesday recalled the woman as an attentive mother who balanced care of her children with an outside job at a warehouse. They were shocked by the news.
"She was a very good mom," said Tina Claybourne, who lives nearby. "She took care of her kids. She always was with her kids."
"This is the worst call I’ve been on in 12 years," a Newburgh city firefighter told the Hudson Valley Insider.
Mayor Nicholas Valentine said Newburgh, an impoverished and crime-ridden city located 60 miles north of New York City, was heartbroken by the deaths but vowed residents would pull together to heal.
"We are talking about a tragedy in this city that is probably second to none," said Valentine. "We are a tough city. We are a compassionate city. We are all one and if you need our help and assistance, we are here for that."
Newburgh, which has about 30,000 residents, sits on the western shore of the part of the river that runs south through New York state and eventually splits New York and New Jersey. The town is about 30 miles north of suburban Westchester County.
The incident is reminiscent of the case of a South Carolina woman who drowned her young sons in 1994.
Susan Smith is serving a life sentence for killing 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex by strapping them into their car seats and driving the car into a pond.
Smith first claimed she had been carjacked by an African-American man — an accusation that stoked racial tensions in the South — before the truth came out.
This story contains information from The Associated Press.