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. KC D MAN

    I don't see all the facts, however I have trouble understanding how someone could answer their door, see three children who say they've been shot, then let them go back home when their mother calls for them, so she can finish the job. If the children were telling the truth, you would see blood, but even if they weren't I would grab those kids and bring them inside.......no way I would let them go back. I don't get this part of the story....why would you let those kids go back???

    May 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Uglyfish

      Maybe the neighbor didn't like kids. There are a lot of people who hate kids.

      May 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joyce

    "....she wished to be reunited with them in the afterlife or wants to spare them the misery of this life."

    I don't know about anyone else, but I sure wouldn't want to be 'reunited in the afterlife' with someone who shot me to death.

    Just sayin'.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. maestra730

    Oh, here we go. Al Sharpton and/or Jesse Jackson will try to spin this and somehow make it not her fault.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      Who said anything about Sharpton or Jackson in this article?? Try to understand what you read..concentrate

      May 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. john

    Word to the unwise, shot yourself first, then your kids.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DC

    She was just 'standing her ground'

    May 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. johngoddard

    Florida, Florida, Florida!!! Let us see, a homeless man gets hit with a felony for stealing a soft drink, a wanna-be cop is probably going to get away with the murder of an unarmed teen, a lady, in self defense, gets 20 years HERSELF, and now this. Boy, we are sure glad we moved from there! Must be something in the water!!!!!!

    May 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rob


    Fortunately for us, we have YOU... a much better human being, in a position to pass judgment... Yep, no doubt your so much better...

    May 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. someone

    The issue is how she got the gun...no one seems to look at that....

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

      Because in the USA any crazy can get a gun. The sooner ALL GUNS ARE BANNED the better.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gahh

    If only people like her would just kill themselves and stop taking their kids with them. Those poor kids had their whole lives ahead of them. Sad sad.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ron

    Actually no one know's for sure how many times she fired the gun. She could have missed some. Probably not....but it is possible. The cops may not have found all the empty casings.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jubril

    Another serious reason why free health care should be available. This woman could have benefited from a Mental Health Doctor, But she might not have been able to afford it. Then with 4 kids and she is only 33, which is why its always a bad decision to have children as a teen

    May 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      Another reason why hand guns should be banned.No citizen needs a hand gun unless he/she is in law enforcement

      May 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mattcronin

    Yeah, in a country of 315 million, it's safe to assume we all shoot our kids then commit suicide.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mom to mom

    Well, I guess she wasn't happy with the OBAMA economy either.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. larry

    Well, she had to reload FOUR times, not three. The gun holds 6 rounds, she fired 18 shots at the kids, but she had to kill herself with the gun, to, so she reload four times, not three. What kind of reporting or investigating is this?

    May 22, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lance Kinnebrew

    Let us take a moment of silence for the children who suffered from this tragic event. Painfully sad.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
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