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Mother Who Drove With Children Into Ocean Believed In ‘Demons’

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Ebony Wilkerson via CNN

(CNN) — She was trying to get help for her sister.

Help for a woman who was distraught and uneven, having driven to Florida to get away from her husband. Who had gone, at her sister’s urging, to a hospital only to sign herself out earlier in the day. A woman who was “talking about Jesus and that there’s demons in my house,” her sister said on a 911 call.

“I’m trying to control her,” the sister said, expressing worry about her sister’s three children. “… I’m trying to keep them safe.”

At first, the plea appeared to pay off: Police caught up to the woman — later identified as Ebony Wilkerson — after she sped away from her sister’s Daytona Beach apartment. An officer questioned her as her three children sat in the Honda Odyssey’s backseat, smiling and seemingly calm. Wilkerson explained that she feared for her safety, worried that her estranged husband would harm them.

According to a Daytona Beach Police report, the officer believed she might have a mental illness. Despite these concerns, the officer talked to a detective also at the scene and let her go on her way, concluding she couldn’t be held under a Florida law that allows for detention of people believed to be impaired by mental illness and who possibly pose a risk of harm.

Almost two hours later Tuesday, Wilkerson drove her black minivan — with the three kids still inside — into the surf of the Atlantic Ocean.

Tim Tesseneer was driving along Daytona Beach on Tuesday with his wife when they noticed the minivan driving through shallow water. They heard the screams, he said, of two children, who were crying and waving for help out of one of the rear windows.

Tesseneer threw the car in park and raced over to help. One child was screaming, Tesseneer recalled Wednesday to CNN’s Piers Morgan. “‘Please help us, our mom is trying to kill us.'”

The other child he could see was wrestling a woman for the steering wheel. But the woman just kept saying, “‘We’re OK. We’re OK. We’re OK,'” as another man joined Tesseneer trying to get the driver to stop.

With the minivan in the cold, heavy surf of the Atlantic, the second man, Stacy Robinson, opened a door and pulled out the two panicked children. There was a good chance if he and Tesseneer hadn’t been there, the children, ages 10 and 9, would have drowned inside the van as it pitched in the water, officials said.

Another child, a 3-year-old girl, was strapped in a car seat. A lifeguard dived in through a front window and unbuckled the child and handed her to another lifeguard as the vehicle bobbed in water about 3 feet deep.

Meanwhile, Wilkerson walked away quietly with a strange, almost “possessed” look on her face, witnesses said.

Not for long. Authorities quickly caught up to her. And on Friday she was officially arrested on three counts of attempted first-degree murder, according to Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson.

Given what authorities have said since Tuesday’s incident, the charges hardly come as a surprise. Still, as more details come out — like the sister’s 911 call and the charging affidavit — they paint an ever more disturbing picture, especially for Wilkerson’s children.

For evidence of their ordeal, one need only listen to what all three continuously uttered when officers caught up with them at Halifax Health Medical Center.

“Mom tried to kill us.”

Mom said: ‘I am keeping all of us safe’

The story begins in South Carolina, where Wilkerson and her children had been until she made the decision to leave the state, to leave her husband behind. Her children later detailed the fractured relationship between their parents, as well as the time her son got into trouble after speaking to authorities probing a domestic situation there.

“She came down to me for protection,” Wilkerson’s sister explained in her 911 call, of the quartet coming to the eastern Florida coast.

Wilkerson’s sister was especially concerned about protecting the three children. Wilkerson’s fragile mental state led her to call police to ask for a well-being check “because she’s … having psychosis or something or postpartum.”

The sister explained they’d gone to the hospital Monday, only to have a pregnant Wilkerson check herself out the next day even though “she’s still not all there.” And she’d taken away the minivan’s keys so her sister couldn’t drive away with her children.

Or so she thought.

However she did it, Wilkerson drove off as her sister talked with police.

That was followed by the initial encounter with the officer and detective, then later the incident on Daytona Beach.

The children later told investigators that their mother told them “to close their eyes and go to sleep.” As they screamed as the minivan went into the water, she insisted she was taking them to a better place, saying repeatedly: “I am keeping all of us safe.”

After their rescue, Wilkerson herself talked to authorities. “She seemed confused and jumped from one religious topic to another,” states the charging affidavit.

Wilkerson explained at one point that she’d been driving “too close to the water (when) the waves pulled her in.” Then, near the end of their talk, she said she did not want her husband around her children.

On Thursday night, an arrest warrant was signed for Wilkerson. And shortly after 11 a.m. — after being released from Halifax Health — she was arrested.

Wilkerson was being held on three counts of aggravated child abuse in addition to the first-degree murder charge, Johnson said Friday.

Her bond has been set at $1.2 million, said James Purdy, the elected public defender for the 7th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Purdy said he would seek a court hearing on that bond, which could occur in the next week or so. He said he was going to speak with Wilkerson on Saturday.

Investigators have claimed in the charging affidavit: “Ebony Wilkerson acted with premeditated design to kill her three children.


  • observer

    She obviously needs help and her sister even tried. What alot of people don’t seem to realize is that when you even try to get help for the mentally ill, nobody really listens for one thing and for another, all you get told is that they have rights. It can’t be forced if they are an adult. Something needs to change!

    • Jim

      We cannot just go around locking up everyone we think has a mental health issue – the Nazis tried this – did not work out so well

      • observer

        I never said anything about locking them up. I said something needs to change. Then when some of them commit crimes everyone whines that someone should have seen this comming and done something. They make it hard to help.

      • observer

        Once the commit a crime, then help is forced unless they are just sent to prison and overlooked. I’m sure that happens too.

  • ziggy

    It could be that she is eligible for more help if she is charged with something than if they just cut her loose and told her to see a shrink. She is obviously very sick and needs to be closely supervised in order to protect her unborn child. I doubt if the state will follow through with the charges.

    • SoSueMe

      Agreed! What if she would of succeeded in killing her kids? The fact that she’s “sick” wouldn’t of mattered if she killed them. They would still be dead at the hands if their so-called mother.

  • Sly

    And still where was the help when she needed it, jail is not where she belongs, what of she was a good mother who is suffering some sort of abuse herself and had a breakdown.

  • Donna Miller

    For one,she is black,and made the mistake of being in Florida!That in itself shows she was not in her right mind!!It was like the police seen something was wrong with her,but still let her drive off!They should hold some of the accountability for her doing that to those kids.However,I know that they won’t,they were probably waiting on her to do something like this so that they could lock her away and throw away the key, as they do all blacks down there!MODERN DAY FORCED SLAVERY!You can’t have mental issues if you are black,that’s only for whites,you can’t defend yourself either,you can’t walk down the street,nor where a certain type of clothes,nor play your music loud,be young,black and foolish,you can’t make a human mistake,you can’t speak up for yourselves,you can’t be smart,have common sense,nor be too educated,or you are a very big threat,and will have to be handled accordingly:JAIL OR DEATH!!!!

    • Judy

      If they had no legal reason to hold her, they did their job.It is idiots like you that pull the race card when they cant think of anything else!!

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