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. jazz

    Everyone is going to hell on a grease pole unless they receive Jesus into their heart and ask forgiveness of their sin and change their ways with Jesus' help.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. lizevem

    If my mom shot me and I escaped, I wouldn't be going back if she called for me to come home to finish me off... These kids seemed pretty obedient 🙁

    May 23, 2012 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. John Land

    This story doesn't add up. Why would those kids stand there during 18 shots and 3 reloads, with the gun only 2 feet away or less, and not resist their mother or try to overpower her?

    As far as the madness of it, this kind of thing has been happening all my 59 years. Every few months the paper would have a story, "Man kills family and self" or something similar. Tragic madness.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian Smith

      How do you know she didn't shoot each one once to pin them down, and then she'd have plenty of time to reload and shoot them again. 4 kids, 6 shots, 3 reloads. You think someone was there to videotape it as she plugged each kid individually?

      May 23, 2012 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. John Smith

    Women today. Abort their children. Divorce their fathers. Have multiple partners before marriage. Rather work than stay home with their babies......oh yes and kill them. Why are American Men choosing Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern Women over nasty diseased white women........

    May 23, 2012 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • warsteiner

      Its a real mess isnt it, The US is one of a very few places in the world where women would rather have careers and multiple partners then have families. I think that the feminist have demonized home makers into feeling guilty about putting their families first. I just think when ever we fight nature we end up fighting a losing battle. Woman we made to raise children and men to bring home food and offer protection.

      May 23, 2012 at 5:07 am | Report abuse |
    • C.R. Hileman

      Your replay here stated Diseased ridden White women, where in here did it become a Race Issue, if you read the column the the family was African american, so get over the racial issue you biggot

      May 23, 2012 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Tyler Durden

      Because most American men are now Black, Hispanic, and Asian. So LOL, joke's on you

      May 23, 2012 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      So American men should have no more responsibility toward children beyond sperm donation?

      May 23, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. mmi16

    Sounds line the entire family was a pallet or two short of a load.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Herbys

    Of all the damages produced by religion, this is likely the one less often discussed. No one kills their children "out of love" unless they believe in an afterlife (with the sole probable exception of a son that's in chronic incurable pain, such as a terminal disease, in which a rational person might decide to end the child's life out of love).
    I have never heard of an atheist killing their children and then taking his/her own life. It is always some religious nut.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
    • John Land

      What religion tells people they will be rewarded for killing one's kids and oneself?

      May 23, 2012 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
    • warsteiner

      Mental illness no one does this whos balenced

      May 23, 2012 at 5:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Dobbs jr.


      May 23, 2012 at 6:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      You absolutely right, in this case one can truly say that religion kills; as in so many other cases as well (e.g. 9/11). If more people could rid themselves of their childish religious delusions and live this one life we have we would all be better off.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. MrBoydie

    There are a couple things that don't quite add up, why the kids didn't all make a break for it when they had to opportunity between the reloading and secondly, if they went to a neighbor's house to tell them that their mother had shot them, WHY IN GODS NAME did they go BACK to the house when their mother called on them to come back?????

    May 23, 2012 at 5:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      Probably because of exactly that, "GOD'S NAME". They were all going to be reunited in the "afterlife"...religious delusions are sad.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. james

    A horrifying, tragic story....and people commenting here are actually arguing and calling each other names over how many rounds they think this woman used. My god. Our society is unglued from reality. Those comments prove it.

    May 23, 2012 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. BigHwasdemo

    I want to know where is Sharpton and Jesse Jackson now? Couldn't they come down and hold a candlestick vigil or something? And if Obama had a son he would look like Joel. All three are worthless.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. betsy

    Why argue on how many rounds. This very sick women killed her innocent children which is a tragidy regardless if she fired once or 100 time. May God be with those babies and her thought she would be re-united with them is ridiculous – she killed herself – our GOD is a forgiving GOD she may have asked for forgiveness for killing the children but a gun to your mouth is instant deatj -no time to ask him to forgive you for your own life. May she rot in hell and may it comfort the family and friends to know GOD has some precious angels. This is sad and tragic – definitely more to this story no one will ever know. Thoughts and prays. May the children RIP

    May 23, 2012 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      This woman's delusional belief in a "god" and an "afterlife" was the problem and the cause for all of their demise. People are better off when they realize that this is our only life and then live and love it to its fullest.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  11. richards

    cold world, so sick to know she brought those kids to this ugly world and also cut short the adventure.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Veritas

    Sad that religious delusions can cause this much harm. Clearly this mother thought she could escape this life and take her family members/children with her to the "next life". If people didn't hold these kind of childish beliefs about an "afterlife" they might be more focused on making this only life we have as full and loving as they can.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. chris

    Mental illness obviously(maybe) and the kids being very trusting of their mother no matter what she did to them. Speaks of a weird home, where is the father?

    May 23, 2012 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jep11

    Assuming the.38 was fully loaded before she started firing, she would have to reload only twice to sure a total of 18 rounds but she would need one more bullet to commit suicide. Any way it went, may those children rest in peace and may she rest in he!!.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:49 am | Report abuse |
  15. Gerardo

    What a horrible story. I am not sure that I agree with the notion that a family member kills its family in order to save them from having a terrible life, or that the killing has to do with the shooter's wishes to keep its family together in the afterlife ( if there is one). This person had serious mental health problems, nothing more, nothing less. It is a very sad story. If you need help coping with life, PLEASE seek professional help.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
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