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Video: NFL stars rally to boy survivor of Hudson tragedy

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    >>> back now at 8:37 with an update on a story that touched so many. nearly two months ago a mother drove her family's mini van into the hudson killing herself and three of her children. the oldest, a 10-year-old boy, survived. mara schiavocampo has more on how he's doing. good morning.

    >> good morning. this story touched viewers deeply with so many wanting to know how to help the young boy who went through a terrible trauma. people reached out to him from all over the world including a group of professional athletes who are building a team of support around lashawn. from the outside, lashawn armstrong looks like any other kid. but inside, he's coping with a tragedy no 10-year-old should ever face. this child's play, a welcome distraction from an unimaginable trauma.

    >> we are going to begin with a tragic story in new york.

    >> reporter: seven weeks ago, lashawn's mother, 25-year-old la shonda armstrong loaded he and his siblings into the family mini van , allegedly distraught after an argument with the father of three of the kids she drove into the dark, frigid waters of the hudson river . as the van began to sink, lashawn lowered a window and swam to shore.

    >> he kept repeating, help my mom, she's in the water.

    >> reporter: by the time rescuers found the family, it was too late. the van was submerged in eight feet of water. the bodies of the mother, 5-year-old landon, 2-year-old lance and 11-month-old lianna all inside. lashawn's story of survival touched so many, including baltimore ravens linebacker ray lewis .

    >> many stories you hear day in, day out. but that one grabbed me. he grabbed me from afar. first words out of my mouth were, i need him.

    >> think about how hard this is.

    >> reporter: lewis tracked the family down, offering lashawn mentorship and emotional support.

    >> i just grabbed him, hugged him. i looked at him and i told him, i'm here for you, man. i can't replace what you've lost. but i can tell you that i'm here to go forward with you.

    >> reporter: the two formed a strong instant bond.

    >> when i first met ray lewis i was, like, shocked. it was so cool. he's like a brother to me. like an older brother to me. he says that he misses me and i'm like family to him.

    >> reporter: lashawn's new extended family is much bigger than lewis . other current and retired nfl players are huddling around him.

    >> we made him a part of our family. we told him, we've got him for life.

    >> reporter: they are also offering financial support for counseling, tutoring and a college fund . holding a black tie fund-raiser this april and asking for continued donations. lashawn still struggles with his new reality. his grandparents, who share custody, say he was a doting big brother who deeply misses his family and has never spoken of that night.

    >> a couple times i catch him in moments but he gets out of it.

    >> he just says, god, thank you for looking out for my family in heaven.

    >> reporter: lashawn is not going through it alone. he has a large and loving family. and now a team of big brothers . what do you hope for his future?

    >> to achieve much more than what his situation offered.

    >> reporter: as far as lashawn is concerned, his options are wide open .

    >> i don't know what i want to be when i grow up. there is a lot to do. i'm not sure yet. first i have to finish college though.

    >> reporter: one child emerging from a painfully dark time, looking ahead to a brighter future. the ray lewis foundation is accepting donations specifically for lashawn's education activities and counseling. lewis said he's personally donated $10,000. we have the information at today.com.

    >> such a special little boy .

    >> a really good kid. we hope the best for him.

    >> you often hear about athletes who do bad things. here is an athlete stepping up in a wonderful way for a child.

    >> just saw the need.

    >> and filled it. thank you

By
TODAY contributor
updated 6/1/2011 10:43:30 AM ET 2011-06-01T14:43:30

His mother and younger siblings taken away from him by unspeakable tragedy, 10-year-old La’Shaun Armstrong now finds himself wrapped in the love and care of some big, burly football stars.

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Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a 10-time Associated Press All-Pro, and retired NFL cornerback Reggie Howard are spearheading a fundraising effort to provide La’Shaun with counseling, activities and a college scholarship. But perhaps more important, Lewis and others have opened their hearts along with their wallets.

“He’s like a big brother to me, like an older brother to me,” a smiling La’Shaun said of the 35-year-old Lewis in a TODAY report Wednesday. “He says that I’m like family to him.”

Sole survivor
La’Shaun’s story made international headlines April 12 when his distraught mother, La'Shanda Armstrong, drove her minivan, containing her four children, into the frigid waters of the Hudson River near Newburgh, N.Y., in an apparent attempt to take her life and those of her children. She and three children — 5-year-old Landon, 2-year-old Lance and 11-month old Laianna — all perished in the waters; only La’Shaun managed to escape through a window and swim to shore.

Image: LaShaun Armstrong, Ray Lewis
Stephen Chernin  /  AP
La’Shaun Armstrong gets a hug from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis during the United Athletes Foundation Gala April 30 in New York City.

La’Shaun immediately sought help for his family, telling rescue workers, “Please help my mommy, she’s in the water.” His story touched the hearts of many, but maybe none more so than linebacker Lewis.

“Many stories you hear day in and day out, but that one grabbed me,” Lewis told TODAY’s Mara Schiavocampo. “My first words out of my mouth were, ‘I need him.’ ”

Lewis, vice chairman of the United Athletes Foundation, and Howard, the foundation’s president, quickly organized a fundraiser. On April 30, young La’Shaun was the guest of honor at a black-tie event at New York City’s Grand Hyatt.

Lewis recalled his first meeting with La’Shaun: “I just grabbed him and hugged him. I looked at him and told him, ‘I’m here for you, man. I can’t replace what you’ve lost. But I can tell you that I’m here to go forward with you.’ ”

He and Howard took La’Shaun bowling and have pledged long-term support, both financial and personal, to the boy. In addition to the UAF fundraiser, Lewis has donated $10,000 to La’Shaun’s education through his Ray Lewis Foundation. 

Howard, like Lewis, says he’s bonded with La’Shaun and plans to be part of his life as he grows up. “We brought him in and made him part of our family,” Howard told TODAY. “And one of the things we told him [was], we got him. We got him for life.”

The love of the football giants has been a ray of sunshine in La’Shaun’s life as he continues to come to terms with his family tragedy. With his biological father in jail on robbery charges, he’s being raised by his grandparents, Larry Edge and Datrice Armstrong, who say La’Shaun sorely misses the younger brothers and sister he doted on.

La’Shaun hasn’t spoken of the horrifying events of seven weeks ago, Datrice Armstrong told TODAY: “He just says, ‘God, thank you for looking out for my family in heaven.’ ”

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And along with that gratitude, La’Shaun has made it clear how much friendship from the likes of Lewis and Howard means to him. “I feel sad sometimes, [but] I feel happy because I have my family and Reggie Howard and Ray Lewis to help me with stuff,” he told the New York Daily News.

Could La’Shaun wind up mirroring his mentors and becoming a gridiron great himself? The boy told TODAY he’s taking it one day at a time.

“I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to do. First, I have to finish college.”

For gridiron great Lewis, his hopes for La’Shaun are “to achieve much more than what his situation offered.”

To make a donation to help La’Shaun Armstrong through the Ray Lewis Foundation, click here.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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