NEWBURGH, New York (Reuters) - A mother and three children were found dead in a submerged minivan she intentionally drove into the Hudson River after a fourth child escaped and got help, officials said on Wednesday.
A drenched and shaken Lashaun Armstrong, 10, 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 their mother “intentionally drove the car into the river,” he said.
After an hour-long search and rescue effort by police and fire department dive teams and a helicopter, the car was found submerged in 8 feet of murky water about 25 feet off shore near a boat ramp.
Dead in the vehicle were Lashandra 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.
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.
“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.
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.”
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, additional reporting by Mike Segar in Newburgh, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune