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. HelpUs

    What in the world is wrong with american people? Solders killing babies at war since Vietnam, fathers and mothers shooting their own children. People shooting in schools. There's shooting across US every single day.Police shooting and killing innocents everyday across US and they get away with it. Wake up someone and try to find where the problem is because there is obviously a problem there. What is wrong with the president and those before him, they're spending money on invading and stealing other countries resources while they is a growing and alarming state of people killing each other in the country. Somebody should shake the president and bring him down from his little dream cloud.

    May 22, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ForGoodOfAll

      We need sticter gun control legislation in the USA. There are too many sickos with easy access to guns and ammo.

      May 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mei

      Americans live in a country where they don't even value life within the womb. The officials press hard for abortion rights which shows you how much they truly value life. Many officials now want to ruin the foundation of the family and destroy traditional marriage. And they wonder why there are so many cases like this.

      May 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • AW

      Mankind will destroy itself sooner than later

      May 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sirned

    What's up with Fla.? What a freaking cess pool of a state....Too many Republcans?

    May 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Delise

      Totally agree!

      May 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • it's the law

      The media loves FL and reports more heavily on FL than many other states partly because of demographics, but mostly because of the "Sunshine" laws that make nearly everything that happens in a court room or government meeting able to be video recorded.

      This means they know they can follow a story all they way through, often live. Combined with the population being more dense (double entendre there) than you'd normally think thanks to most people living on the costs, means they get a lot of bang for their buck for covering events in FL.

      May 22, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sirned

    She had no hope for her or her family. Her mind was made up. She mistakenly thought there was no way for her and her children....Why would she have hope with Republcans demonizing the poor at every turn at the same time telling the poor not to use birth control.....Sad....expect more of this in the future with the hateful and judgemental tea partiers...

    May 22, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Delise

      Sometimes life takes you down soooooo low and if you have no tools, or coping skills to pull you up, your mind leads you to do crazy things. Living in this world is not easy, sometimes people think we are grown and mature and we are not. I cannot imagine the inner pain this lady endured to lead her to do such a horrible, horrible thing to her family. Yet deep inside of me, I understand.

      May 22, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kenneth

    38spl JHP bullets were used ? when the hell is the last time anybody discloses what type of bullets were used ?

    May 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ForGoodOfAll

    Where was social services? I am sure that it was evident way before the murders & suicide that this family needed help. How did the system fail this family? I hope that the Florida Dept. of welfare and social services as well as the police find answers to the cause of this terrible & brutal crime. Let's fix the broken system that failed this family. In the interest of humanity and our future, we must do better.

    May 22, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • HelpUs

      I agree. Every Social Services that i have seen in every countries i have been are just pencils pushers, they are there when you don't need them and they're not there when you need them. A bunch if pencil pushers who are there just for the pay they get at the end of the week.

      May 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Who Cares

    I am shocked that Odumber has not showed up yet for his photo opt? That is what he does, because he can't do anything else.

    May 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • KellyinBoston

      Gross comment.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MotoJB

    Come here kids! Momma's got 18 kisses for you! Sickening...

    May 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MotoJB

    Why would you report "jacketed hollow point bullets"? For anti-gun effect, obviously. Roll eyes. Such B S

    May 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DellStator

    What's up with Florida?
    It's embarrasing.
    Can't we just sell it to Cuba, Hati, Mexico, anyone?

    May 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Messenger

    "When my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I then from Heaven, will forgive their sins and heal their land" GOD, ALLAH, JEHOVAH, YAWHEW.

    May 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meh

      So we have to name our kids God, Allah, Jehovah, and Yawhew? YAHOO? Really? Cuz that's how your post reads....

      May 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. pooh66

    Very Sad. Why don't these troubled parents just kill themselves? Why do they have to take down the whole family?

    May 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kudu

      Anyone who murders another human then commits suicide is a sick twisted COWARD!

      May 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • 13monkees

      Because their religion tells them there's an afterlife where everything is peaches and candy and they believe they will be with their loved ones in a better place.

      May 22, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • zhaylin

      I always said I wouldn't kill myself unless I could kill my kids too (I have 4 as well).
      It's not that I wanted to "send my kids" to a better place or be reunited with them. I envisioned how bad their future would be having been abandoned by their mom (If I had killed only myself) and left in the care of the System- with emotional wounds too deep they would never fully heal.

      When a person is THAT depressed- as I *was*- they do not think rationally at all.
      I'm sorry the mom didn't receive any help and that her children were killed by her. 🙁
      This is such a heart-breaking story.

      May 22, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really???

      Religion had nothing tho do with this 13monkeys, that is just your religious bigotry talking. A murderer, especially in a kin slaying, is not going to be with the victims in heaven or paradise. The murderer pays for their crimes & the innocent victims are rewarded. So drop the anti religion prosthelytization.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HelpUs

    Naomi i couldn't have said it better than you just did. Very well said. I totally agree with you.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rosie

    According to the article, she is 33 yrs old. She had her first child at 16, then 18 then 20 then 21. She was so young when she became a mother. Did she have chronic depression that was not treated over the years form the stress of having children as a child herself.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luek

      A 16 yo female is not a child nor is an 18 yo or a 20 yo or a 22 yo.
      We as a society have to stop equating grown women with children. If you are a mother you are an adult and should be expected to act like one.

      May 23, 2012 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. HIDE BEHIND

    Odd how a tragedy of this magnitude gets reduced to counting bullets, but to my limited intelligence the question remains,"Who was the person that let the children leave after being told, Mama is shooting us".
    You can cry anti gun all you want but the character weakness of the populace at large continue to amaze me, and the ignorance.......
    To you uninitiated to violence in US and weapons a pidtol roumd, nevermind multiple,even fired in best built home is extremely loud and a 38 spec is up there in decibles and any damn fool should of heard them.
    For someone to of not grabbed those children in their arms and drug them by force into safety of ones home to me is as bad acrime as the mothers.
    Our sociaty is indeed sick.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PPJr

    Darwin's Law!

    May 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
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