Everyone Loses As Family Feud Turns Sad, Solemn Funeral Into Raucous Shouting Match

April 28, 2011
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You would think that having to eulogize a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old and a baby who didn’t make it to her first birthday is the most terrible thing in the world.

You would be wrong.

An even more terrible thing is allowing a family feud – however understandable – to turn a sad, solemn funeral into a raucous shouting match in which everyone loses.

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That’s what happened at the funeral of Landon, Lance and Lainaina Pierre, who died with their 25-year-old mother, Lashanda Armstrong, when she drove them all into the Hudson in a suicide plunge on April 12.

Fury erupted after the children’s father, Jean Pierre, gave police a list of 80 people who should be allowed into the service at the Alphonso E. Brown Funeral Home in Spring Valley, Rockland County.

Only 18 of the invited mourners were members of Armstrong’s family.

“Enough is enough!” shouted Gwendolen Green, 48, a nurse and Armstrong cousin whose son was blocked from entering.

“This side of the family matters, too! You know it’s wrong!”

Green objected to the display of grief shown by Pierre, who had quarreled with Armstrong on the night of the tragedy over his philandering and an order of protection she’d gotten against him.

“He’s carrying on so [much] in there, screaming and hollering. The guilt is filling him up,” said Green, who wore photo-buttons of the children.

“Treat the mother right! Don’t abuse! Pay child support! You’re supposed to take care of people when they’re alive!”

At the Gethsemene Cemetery in nearby Congers, relatives from both sides of the family wailed loudly in unison as the three tiny white coffins were lowered into the ground, fitting together into one burial plot.

They were supposed to be buried with their mother in another cemetery last Thursday, but Pierre, 26, stopped that plan at the last minute, decreeing they should not be buried with the woman who killed them.

Armstrong’s 10-year-old son, Lashaun Armstrong, who escaped the vehicle by swimming into the frigid waters, attended his mother’s funeral. He stayed home with an aunt yesterday, relatives said, to spare him more pain.

As gravediggers from the Nugent Bros. Co. finished their work, one paused to tenderly arrange three bouquets of white lilies and tiny blue forget-me-nots atop the grave, right next to the headstone of Cornelius Mahoney, who died at the age of 95.

Along with the sadness and anger one question loomed: How could a mother kill her own children?

How could she do it, no matter how much she wanted to punish their father for cheating on her?

How could she, when for most of their lives, Armstrong didn’t even want them to get a scraped knee? When she had held down a job to clothe and feed them?

Armstrong seemed to be looking out for her kids when she sought the order of protection, after little Lance wandered into the snow after Pierre left him alone, supposedly so he could hook up with another woman.

It’s at the level of a tragic Greek myth – that of Medea, who murdered her two children by Jason when he left her for a princess.

Pierre, a Haitian immigrant who’d been with Armstrong since their high school prom – after she’d had Lashaun with a different young man at the age of 15 – has said he was not directly responsible for the death of his three children.

And he wasn’t – but perhaps he wasn’t as responsible as he could have been for their lives and for that of their mother.

As the two families left the cemetery, named for the garden where Jesus prayed for strength, they removed their coats and Easter hats, for it was warm again, 70degrees, in Spring Valley.

If only Armstrong had waited for her own spring, waited for things to get better.

And you remembered that just before her only surviving child saved himself, his mother grabbed him and cried, “I made a mistake!” he told police, who found her gearshift in reverse.

All you could hope for as the mourners left was that Pierre would man up and be a good father to Lashaun, and that the family that lost a daughter and three grandchildren could help him – for the sake of the little boy who miraculously swam away from death on that terrible, terrible night.

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