Updated 04/29/2011 05:59 AM
College shows support for sister of Newburgh woman who drove minivan into Hudson
In Western New York, students and staff gathered to show their support for a Monroe Community College student. Diamond Gilliam is trying to cope with a family tragedy that made national headlines. Her sister, Lashanda Armstrong, was the 25-year-old woman who drove her minivan into the Hudson River in Newburgh, killing herself along with her three young children. Mike Hedeen has the story.
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Students, faculty, and staff gathered to show support for a Monroe Community College student Thursday.
Diamond Gilliam is trying to cope with a family tragedy that made national headlines. Her sister, LaShanda Armstrong, 25, was the Newburgh woman who drove the family minivan into the Hudson River, killing herself and three children, ages 11 months, two and five years old. Her 10-year-old son, La'Shaun Armstrong, was able to escape the sinking vehicle and swim to shore.
"To me, he's a hero,” Diamond said of her young nephew. “If he hadn't got out of the car the cops said it would have been a missing persons case because the car was so far. So I'm glad he got out and he's still alive so we still have someone to carry on LaShanda's memory."
Diamond said she's not sure exactly what happened on April 13th. She's been picking up bits and pieces from her surviving nephew.
"A lot of arguing, a lot of arguing, a lot more than usual,” she said. “[LaShanda] was crying a lot. [La'Shaun] said that's the last thing he remembers, a lot of crying, a lot of arguing."
Diamond said her sister became overwhelmed by her troubled life and was dealing with mental and emotional abuse.
"She reached out. My mom helped her a lot with financial issues and stuff, but she never really mentioned any mental or emotional abuse,” Diamond explained. “I found all of that out after from my nephew and it's a lot."
Diamond has found support among her friends and classmates at MCC. Many have stayed by her side from the moment Diamond received the devastating news.
"I've been talking to her and being there for her,” said Symphony Samuels. “We have moments where we talk or we laugh or come up with a joke and just getting her through this situation. There's a lot of support in the dorms and we're just sitting down and everybody's just there for her."
Another message coming out of the service was for anyone considering taking their own life to seek help. Diamond said she doesn't want anyone to ever go through the kind of tragedy she and her family suffered.
"You never know the help that's out there unless you reach out and try to receive that help from someone,” said Henry Brown, a staff member at MCC who organized the service. “There's always somebody there willing to help you. You just got to reach out and grab it."
Balloons were released to end the service in memory of those who died. Blue balloons were for Diamond's nephews Landen and Lance, pink for her niece Laianna, and a white balloon in memory of her sister LaShanda.