SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The mother who drove her minivan with three children into the frigid Hudson River last week was laid to rest today.
A white casket containing the body Lashanda Armstrong arrived Thursday morning at the First Baptist Church where her funeral was held, along with three balloons — one for each of the children who died in her minivan when she drove it into the frigid Hudson River on April 12.
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“A Lot of singing, a lot of crying, a lot of sadness,” Bed-Stuy resident Brenda McWirten told CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez. “I wish the children could have been in there with her.”
Landen Pierre, 5, 2-year-old Lance Pierre and 11-month-old Laianna Pierre all drowned in the van. Laianna would’ve turned 1 Wednesday.
“We all know that life is full of questions,” the Rev. Naomi Latour told mourners inside a packed First Baptist Church in Spring Valley. “LaShanda loved God, and God loved LaShanda, and nobody can stop that.”
Family and friends gathered with mixed emotions.
“She felt like it was a cruel world. That’s what she felt like, like why leave them behind,” family friend Katrina Whatley said. “But we know that that wasn’t a good thing to do.”
“I just wish she had considered, had taken another option but who am I to say. You never know the reason,” family friend Doris Davis said.
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La’Shaun Armstrong, 10, managed to wriggle through an open window and swim to shore. The shivering, soaked child was recovered by passerby Maeve Ryan, who brought him to a nearby firehouse.
By the time the firefighters got to the river, it was too late.
Ryan, who was among the mourners Thursday, said she has nightmares and feels “regretful” that she could not rescue the rest of the family. She said she wants to tell La’Shaun, “I will always be here for you, and I apologize for not doing more than I could.”
Ryan said Armstrong’s aunt, Angela Gilliam, had called to thank her, and she told Gilliam, “Don’t thank me, I was in the right place at the right time.”
LaShaun was carefully guarded at the service by family members, traveling to the church in a police-guarded caravan of limousines.
“That’s a lot on a little child, but he was strong. He was very strong throughout the entire service,” family friend Beverly Cox said.
Friends say Armstrong was distraught that day. Police said that prior to killing herself and her children she was involved in a domestic incident with her boyfriend Jean Pierre minutes earlier. Pierre is the father of the three slain children.
“I have been inaccurately portrayed as being directly responsible for the tragedy,” Pierre said in a statement Wednesday. “If I could, I would have changed some things in my past.”
Pierre refused to have the children buried with the woman who killed them. It was a decision that Armstrong’s family said only prolongs their grief.
“I’m disappointed because no matter what, these are her children,” cousin Channise White said. “The funeral plan was for her to be laid at rest with them, so nobody should have changed them.”
“I feel that’s wrong,” Ryan said. “They’re three little angels and the mother is with them at the moment.”
“Those are her kids, they came from within her. Those are hers, they should be with her,” family friend Michael Lake said.
Pierre did not attend the funeral.
What do you think of the decision not to bury the children with her? Good call or bad call? Sound off in our comments section.