TODAY   |  March 08, 2014

Mom who drove minivan into ocean charged

Florida’s Volusia County Sheriff's Office says a mom, 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson, purposefully drove her minivan into the ocean to kill her children, and she has been charged with attempted first degree murder. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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>>> we are learning more this morning about the terrifying moments inside a minivan when a woman drove it straight into the ocean. this morning, that woman is in jail charged with attempted murder , as police and her family try to figure out how and why this happened. here's mark potter .

>> reporter: the images are heart-stopping. on daytona beach , a minivan with a pregnant mother and her three children in the ocean surf as rescuers rushed to help. now that mom, 32-year-old ebony wilkerson , is in jail, facing serious charges.

>> ms. wilkerson has been arrested on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse involving great injury.

>> reporter: the volusia county sheriff's office says wilkerson purposely drove her minivan into the surf to kill her children, locking the doors and rolling up the windows. according to a police report , all three kids told an investigator "mom tried to kill us," and one of them said, "mom is crazy."

>> she actually told them to close their eyes and go to sleep, she was taking them to a better place.

>> god almighty , there's baby in the car.

>> reporter: the sheriff says wilkerson tried to prevent rescuers from helping her children, adding that while she had past domestic issues, wilkerson has no known history of mental illness , but there were recent problems. last saturday, wilkerson called 911 in south carolina .

>> 911, where is your emergency?

>> it's at the hampton inn in myrtle beach .

>> what's going on?

>> my husband just beat me down and raped me.

>> reporter: the husband has not been charged, and his lawyer says "the domestic violence allegations are baseless and were the result of extreme mental illness ." the next day, in nearby north charleston , police say wilkerson claims she was being followed and requested an escort to the city limits so she could take her children to florida. on tuesday, after wilkerson arrived in florida, her sister called 911, concerned about her mental health .

>> she's talking about jesus and that there's demons in my house.

>> reporter: a few hours later, the van was in the ocean. authorities say wilkerson told them she was actually trying to drive out of the water and did not intend to harm her children. for "today," mark potter , nbc news, miami.