Florida mother fired 18 shots at kids before killing self, medical examiner says
Tonya Thomas shot her four children to death before killing herself, police in Florida say.
May 22nd, 2012
04:52 PM ET

Florida mother fired 18 shots at kids before killing self, medical examiner says

[Updated at 4:52 p.m. ET] The Florida woman who killed her four children before committing suicide last week used jacketed hollow-point bullets fired at very close range, no more than 2 feet away, according to the Brevard County District Medical Examiner.

Medical Examiner Sajid Qaiser said Tonya Thomas, 33, fired a Taurus .38-caliber gun, hitting her children 18 times before taking her own life. Most of the wounds on Pebbles Johnson, 17; Jaxs Johnson, 15; Jazzlyn Johnson, 13; and Joel Johnson, 12, were on the fronts of their bodies, indicating they were shot as their mother faced them, Qaiser said.

Qaiser said none of the children or their mother had major defensive wounds, indicating that there was no significant struggle before or during the shootings. Thomas then placed the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger, killing herself.

Qaiser said he noticed changes in Thomas' liver and ordered toxicology screens on Thomas and all of her children. The full autopsy will not be released until those results come back, which could take several weeks, Qaiser said.

"I know everyone thirsty to know why (the children) were not able to escape out of the house, how come one person shot their children so many times," he said. "But we don't have all of the information yet."

Jazzlyn was shot the most, seven times. The gunshots perforated her lung three times as well as her spleen, pancreas, stomach and spine, Qaiser said.

Joel was shot five times. Jaxs took three bullets in his chest.

“Many of the shots were taken at contact range," Qaiser said. "You can tell from the wounds and the clothing that the muzzle of the gun was pressed against the clothing, the body."

Pebbles was also shot three times.

Gun store owner Herb Stratton told Florida Today that the Taurus .38-caliber can hold six shots, meaning Thomas reloaded three times during the shootings.

Police said last week that three of the children had gone to a neighbor's house in Port St. John to say their mother had shot them. Thomas then called them back home before killing them.

Police said last week that they didn't know of a motive in the shooting. Friends and court documents, however, revealed that Jaxs and his mother were having difficulties.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said last week that the circumstances appear to be a case of "suicide by proxy," in which a family member takes the lives of loved ones "out of a warped sense of love" before killing herself.

"Typically, the perpetrator is suicidal, feels life is miserable and doesn't want to go on," Fox said. "But why does she take her children? Because she wished to be reunited with them in the afterlife or wants to spare them the misery of this life."

soundoff (524 Responses)
  1. WHAT?

    Someone still needs to explain this to me

    "Police said last week that three of the children had gone to a neighbor's house in Port St. John to say their mother had shot them. Tonya Thomas then called them back home before killing them."

    How did THAT happen? Kids come to your house, say their mom shot them, and you let them GO BACK?!?!

    Maybe they haven't explained it, but this makes no sense at all

    May 22, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Yes, I am waiting for the explanation to that as well. In addition to why the neighbor LET them go back

      May 22, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Joanne

      In a previous report, it said the neighbors didn't know what was going on so they didn't go outside. They called 911 instead.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • tom

      They didn't tell the neighbor that the mother was shooting them. They didn't have enough time before they were called back.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • pandorashope

      I believe the police were called but it was too late by then. The neighbor did not fully comprehend what was going on I am sure. But from what I understand they did call police. Strange they didn't grab the children and shut the door, then call the police. As a mother, I know that would have been my reaction, pull them inside and let the police sort it out later.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Doesn't add up

      It almost seems like the kids decided to have a pact with their mom. All of them were old enough to fight back and there had to be moments in between loading the gun they could have escaped.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • mema

      Yes this is perplexing. I also do not understand why the kids went back home. Or why they stood around while she reloaded the gun. Also the criminologist explanation of what may have happened does not make much sense. I mean just seems like she would not have shot them so many times, some more than the others. Or perhaps shot them in their sleep so as to not look them in the eyes if in fact it was mercy killings or what not. Sad story regardless.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Rombolio

      The kids came to the neighbor's bleeding while the neighbord was on the phone with police, but they didn't let them in the house. I hope that neighbor is completely racked with guilt. What an incredibly inhumane thing to do.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Abii

      It was said in other articles that the neighbors tried to grab the children to get them inside but they refused and ran back then their mother called for them. They tried to protect them, but their obedience to their family took over.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • yea..

      Yeah i read it 2-3 times now trying to see a typo or some mistake.. doesnt really make sense.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • John in WNY

      Yeah, that was my first thought as well.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evangelicide

      The neighbor probably did some quick math– they've been shot, their mother has a gun and she's calling them back, I have NOT been shot and I'd like to keep it that way, mother's calling them back... well you get the idea.

      It's not about "letting" the kids go back, it's about opting not to get into a situation that could get one's self killed. I would have done (or not done) the exact same thing. I'm simply not losing my life over a problem that I'm not involved in.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    Guns don't kill people...people kill people...WITH GUNS!

    May 22, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • james pfeiffer

      With the number of guns in this country...and with the John Wayne-Chareton Heston macho NRA who work full time at making those guns as easy to obtain as possible, we are literally in a war zone. The Republican governor in Wisconsin (who will now face a recall) just passed a concealed carry law. Republicans don't want to touch the NRA. It all boils down to what kind of society do we want to be...a paranoid, gun-toting, machismo, dog-eat-dog society, or a society that aspires to a higher thinking where a positive community consciousness works to care of ALL our people, respecting our elders, helping the less fortunate, emphasizing education and the overall physical and moral health of the people as a whole. What happened in Florida to these children reflects on all of us...and certainly on our perverse addiction to the gun and the violence it perpetrates. Shame on us. Shame on the NRA and all those who perversely celebrate its political clout. By the way, there are now over a million concealed carry owners in Florida!

      May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. Pat

    If someone shoots me, there is no way in heII I'm walking back to them, no matter who they are!

    May 22, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • kannbarbie

      In previous reports i have read, the children ran out to a neighbors house however the neighbor did not let them in because they were terrified so and they ran back to save their other sibling.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • begreen3850

      Agreed the kids were out of their minds with terror. What time did this occur?

      If she caught them when they were sleeping, they wouldn't have much awareness to make any decisions to save their lives. Mom must have been planning this awhile.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • flip

      What, are you some sort of commie. You owe it to all americans to go back and duke it out.

      May 23, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bails

    this is horrific beyond belief.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mike H.

    Didn't I say so?
    "But why does she take her children? Because she wished to be reunited with them in the afterlife or wants to spare them the misery of this life."

    The othe reason a parent kills his/her children, then him/herself is to absolutely devastate and break the heart of the other parent.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jd

    Unbelievable! Hw the heck does a neihbor allow bleeding kids who came to them for help in the 1st place return to the assailant. Please!either florida slow.. Or sumthngs nt right about story

    May 22, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • flip

      How dare you say bad things about the Plantation State-our motto, "Duck!"

      May 23, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    This is such a sad case all around.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. alcee

    You assume the gun to be loaded initially.... therefore 3 RE-loads.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Selmers

      Alcee, quit trying to be smart. You're embarrassing yourself. If the gun was empty to start with, it would be first loaded, then reloaded twice.

      May 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • solar1

      Gun itinitally holds 6 rounds + 1 reload (6) + 1 reload (6) = 18 rounds after 2 reloads.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • KED

      Actually if you assume the gun to be "loaded" initially, that's six shots. Reload once, twelve shots. Reload twice, 18 shots. She would have had to RE-load twice, two times, not 3.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • brad

      It says in the report the kids were shot a total of 18 times with a 38 special they have only six slots for cartridges. 3X6= 18...... they did not assume nothing. I cannot believe how gruesome and detailed this report is and how unnerving. my sypathies are with the children.

      May 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • guesswho22

      so why did she only put 4 bullets in a 6-shooter with each of your 3 re-loads? doesn't make sense.

      May 23, 2012 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Mariska Adler

      it had to be loaded to fire off 18 rounds lol

      May 23, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      The glock 19 holds 19 rounds. If she used a 9mm pistol that uses a double stack system, she'd have atleast 18 rounds in any of the top models on the market, so she didn't reload three times.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Lu

      Could have blasted each kid twice, reloaded when they were dead.

      May 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      18 times, THEN taking her own life= 6 [reload] 6 [reload] 6, then [reload] once more for self

      May 23, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Justa

    THAT'S what you got from this story? Fabulous. What a cold-hearted person you are.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • flip

      He's a Floridian.

      May 23, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    With a .38 she would have had to reload 3 times.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • begreen3850

      The mother practiced didn't she?

      May 22, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • flip

      She has failed as a mother. Where was her extyended clips?

      May 23, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. LeBrunRose

    Actually, assuming the gun initially was fully loaded when she started shooting, she would have only reloaded three times. So, it seems like you're the one in need of a little math coaching. If you need to work it out, feel free to get a pencil and some paper smart guy

    May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. mema

    Yes please do. And make sure it is successfull. Some people have no compassion!

    May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. Global Traveler

    Actually, she would have to load once, and reload three times, so technically the story is correct. But I get your point.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • boss

      Global traveler i think she would have loaded once (6) reload twice (6×2)= 6+12=18

      May 23, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    The first six rounds may have already been in the revolver. If it was a J-frame, it would only hold 5 rounds.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Not necessarily. Story does not use the term revolver, only that it was a .38 cal Taurus. Taurus makes a .380ACP pistol that is also .38 cal pistol that has a 6+1 capacity. Assuming the weapon was already loaded, she would only have to insert two additional mags to get the 19 total shots(18 to kids + 1 to herself).

      May 23, 2012 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • nadinesh

      Good lord in heaven–why the hell is that important? Sicko.

      May 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Brenda

    Hey genious... he said REloaded. Check your own Math and English! You load rounds in a gun... then REload. I love it when people are quick to jump on others then they, themselves, are wrong!

    May 22, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
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