DAYTONA BEACH, FL (CBS/WKMG) -- Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson held a news conference today to announcing charges against the woman who drove her minivan with her three children into the ocean on Tuesday in Daytona Beach.
As she drove her minivan into the rough ocean surf at Daytona Beach Tuesday afternoon, 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson locked the doors of her 2012 Honda Odyssey, put up the windows and told her three frightened children to close their eyes and go to sleep. She then ignored the children's pleas for help, Volusia County Sheriff's investigators learned, insisting that she was taking herself and her three children to "a safer place."
Concluding that it was an intentional act designed to kill her children, Sheriff's investigators arrested Wilkerson on Friday on three counts of attempted 1st-degree murder and three counts of child abuse. Wilkerson was arrested at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, where she had been taken on Tuesday for a mental health evaluation. After investigators finish processing her, Wilkerson will be booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach and held without bond.
Volusia County Beach Safety officers responded to the initial incident on Tuesday afternoon and teamed up with several beachgoers to rescue the children, a 3-year-old girl, 9-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. While at the hospital, the children declared: "Mom tried to kill us." The oldest child told beach officers that her mother took them to the beach "so we could die."
On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office was brought in to assume the lead role in the investigation. The agency made arrangements to have the two oldest children interviewed so investigators could get a more detailed account of what had taken place. Those interviews described a harrowing ordeal inside the minivan.
One of the children said that Wilkerson had locked the doors, put the windows up and then drove into the surf, saying she was doing it to "keep all of us safe." The oldest child grabbed the steering wheel and unsuccessfully tried to steer the vehicle away from the water. During an interview with a Sheriff's investigator, a witness who helped with the rescue reported seeing a child on Wilkerson's lap and the two were fighting for control of the steering wheel. One of the children pushed the power button to lower the windows and the children started screaming for help. Their yelling attracted bystanders, and when they approached the vehicle, Wilkerson told them everyone was O.K. But the children were screaming that their mother was trying to kill them.
By the time the vehicle stopped, the ocean water was rushing into the minivan and the vehicle was quickly filling up. Wilkerson then exited the minivan and left her children inside the vehicle. The two older children were pulled to safety first and then, after they reported that their younger sister was still in the vehicle, the toddler was extracted through the minivan's rear hatch.
According to a witness, during the rescue one of the beach safety officers had to fend off Wilkerson, who was grabbing at the officer and trying to stop him from entering the vehicle.
Sheriff's investigators also interviewed a family member, who said that Wilkerson was in an abusive relationship and that she had come to Florida with her children to get away from her husband. The relative also said that she had no history of mental illness. "Ebony Wilkerson acted with premeditated design to kill her three children," investigators concluded in the charging affidavit.
After consulting with the State Attorney's Office, Sheriff's investigators presented the results of their investigation to County Judge Shirley Green, who signed the warrant late Thursday night for Wilkerson's arrest. She was arrested at 11:05 a.m. Friday morning after being released from Halifax.