Lashanda Armstrong Wasn’t a Monster or Baby-Killer; She Was Just a Mom

Janelle Harris

Hudson RiverMy first reaction to murder-suicides is always something along the lines of: kill yourself, but don’t take out other people. Especially not kids. So I know we want to judge Lashanda Armstrong for drowning herself and three of her children. Her decision to drive her minivan into the Hudson River was the most deplorable choice a mother could make. In fact, it was the opposite of everything a mama is supposed to be.

We turn to our mothers for dependability, nurturing, and safety, yet she robbed the very children she brought into the world of the opportunity to live. The suffering and confusion those babies had to endure as their van submerged have brought tears to my eyes more than once.

I joke about the infamous show of she-killers, but a woman can snap under too much pressure. Factor in a history of depression, and hers was a combustible situation that played out in a heart-wrenching horror scene. I don’t condemn Lashanda. I even kind of empathize with her.

I’m not condoning what she did in any way, shape, or form. It was wrong. It was selfish. And what makes it all the more angering is that she had time to change her mind. When she was herding them into the van. When she was strapping them into their seats. When she turned the ignition to start the engine. When she was heading down the boat ramp into the Hudson River.

But she didn’t, even though the lone survivor of the tragedy — her 10-year-old son, Lashaun, who was able to get out of the car through a window before the power went out — said his mother’s last words to him were an admission that she had made a mistake. In the amount of time it takes to order a pizza or wash a dish, she became a mass murderer. And her victims were a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, and an 11-month-old baby.

Prior to sending her van careening into the frigid waters, she had been fighting with her boyfriend Jean Pierre, who she accused of cheating. There was apparently a physical altercation. Her actions thereafter were fueled by desperation, egged on by passion, and fired up with irrationality. She had the space of mind to post a goodbye status on her Facebook page, but she was young herself — only 25 — and had a history of mental illness that may have made that fateful argument the breaking point for her sanity.

I was a young mother, too, pregnant with my daughter before I finished my second full year of college. And I can think back and replay with vivid reality the heated — sometimes physical — fights her father and I would have, but even more clearly, I can recall the frenzied anxiety I experienced when I thought about losing the first and only man I loved and raising a child on my own at 19 years old. I’m familiar with that agony of being in a bad relationship but still being wholeheartedly committed to the guy who’s causing you so much stress and heartache. I can relate to what she may have been feeling. Heck, even writing this, my chest is pounding. My brain remembers what it was like. My heart does, too.
Thank God I’ve never battled any kind of mental illness, never suffered through depression, never had crazy thoughts racing through my head. I can’t say that the stress of being part of an unhealthy couple didn’t take its toll on my mind, though. There were times when Skylar would bawl while I was studying for an exam and bill collectors were calling and I had a paper due and her father was nowhere to be found. I was crying and she was crying and I was screaming and she was screaming, and I would have to put her in her crib just to get away and give myself mental space, a much-needed break. I had to find peace, even for a few moments.

Lashanda Armstrong never found her peace. She created an unthinkable solution to her situation instead of rationally analyzing it, considering her children, recognizing that she had lost her good senses and needed to step away from her kids, even if it meant leaving them on the side of the road. At least they would still be alive, even if she decided to end her own life. I sympathize with being on the breaking point, but I cry for the aftershocks of her inability to handle it.

What do you think? Was Lashanda Armstrong a murderess mother or a woman who just couldn’t handle the pressures of life? Have you ever been at a breaking point?

Image via laverrue/Flickr

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