A pregnant South Carolina woman who claimed to be hearing demons, then subsequently drove her minivan loaded with her children into the Atlantic Ocean in Daytona Beach, Fla., was charged with attempted murder in a Florida courtroom Friday. She was also charged with aggravated child abuse, the Associated Press reported (via Yahoo News), even though she has denied trying to harm her children in any way.
Ebony Wilkerson, 32, of Cross, S. C., and her three children had to be pulled from a nearly submerged minivan Tuesday after the pregnant woman drove the car into the rolling surf. Beach bystanders and onlookers helped and watched as the bizarre and terrifying scene unfolded.
The minivan's windows had been rolled up, the doors locked, according to authorities. Yet, according to Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, Wilkerson denied having wanted to harm her children.
The witnesses and those attempting to rescue the family at the ocean's edge at Daytona Beach thought have voiced a different story. They contend Ebony Wilkerson tried to stop them from trying to rescue her and her children, all of whom were thought trapped in the car. The children are also telling a story that conflicts with that told by the mother.
"She told them to close their eyes and go to sleep," Johnson said. "She was trying to take them to a better place."
One of the children, apparently unconvinced that the "better place" had a through street in the Atlantic Ocean, tried to wrestle the steering wheel from his mother.
The children were placed under the protection of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Ebony Wilkerson was taken to a hospital for mental evaluation before being turned over to the sheriff's office for holding. She was later charged with three counts of first-degree attempted murder and three counts of child abuse.
The mental evaluation came as a result of witness accounts of Wilkerson's actions on the beach and because her sister had notified police a few hours before the incident via 911, First Coast News reported, after the woman had said she was hearing demons. Daytona Beach police located Ebony Wilkerson but she insisted she was headed to an abuse shelter after an initial reluctance, she said, to tell them where she was headed for fear that her husband might find out where she was. Legally, the officers could not hold her, so they allowed her to continue on her way.
Two hours later, horrified witnesses watched as the 32-year-old drove along the beach, then suddenly veered into the oncoming waves.
Although some might have thought the vehicle drove into the ocean because of children messing with the steering wheel, at least one witness was certain that what he saw was a minivan being purposely driven into the ocean.
"She was a little bit in the water, and people were chasing her," Michael Bowk, visiting from Washington, D. C., and getting a view of the incident from the second-floor balcony of the Rodeway Inn, told a reporter. "She got out of the water, regained control, then turned right back in for it and that is when panic struck and they all started chasing out there to get the kids. And it was just unreal. In our minds, there was no way it was just accidental. We saw it point blank, she turned back into the ocean and we could not understand why."