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. begreen3850

    I suspect she shot each child to take them down (the surviving kids were wounded when they got to the neighbors) and when they couldn't find help, accepted that they were going to die either at home or on the front lawn.

    She and the oldest boy were due in court that day. She probably couldn't bear the shame anymore and thought the other kids would follow the same path of the oldest, so she took them all out.

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

      A great solution to our growing delinquency problem.

      May 23, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    Another example of how lawmakers have screwed up our system so badly. They have taken away the rights of parents ot correct their kids when they should thereby creating an unwarranted hike in trouble between the parents and their kids when the kids are teenagers and above. We as a society are screwed by the billions of unwanted laws that have been imposed upon us. We call ourselves model of freedom for the world to follow but the worst of the world is better off than us in many aspects of freedom. We are bound in every breath we breathe, in every step we take etc. How is that freedom?

    May 22, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott Pilgrim beat The World

      Fairly certain that this mother wasn't right in the head. I highly doubt it was because she felt laws got in the way of her parenting.

      May 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • flip

      That may be true, but we have the best of gun laws.

      May 23, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • nadinesh

      One of the more confused and illogical wastes of bandwidth I've ever read. Sounds like you've been hitting the sauce for while, Chris.

      May 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dave

    Its a start.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. DDD

    ACTUALLY you are the one who needs to take MATH classes, 6 rounds already in the gun, reload 3 times makes a total of 24 rounds or in you case 24 bullets total, so already loaded with 6 rounds, in order to reach the number of 19, would only be reloading 3 additional times, DUH

    May 22, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Evangelicide

      Well yeah, but you're all forgetting something– what it there were initially three rounds in the gun, or if there were six but three were misfires... three reloads would be correct.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. i_know_everything

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

    May 22, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • upper downer frowner

      If she was truly religious, she would have known that muder and suicide are not acceptable to any christian and would not have resorted to this. She obviously needed help and felt hopeless in life.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    Think there Joshy before you share your wisdom.........

    May 22, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. Devil mother

    PRESCRIPTION MED side effects. Read the label!

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

      How odd. I have never read one that said "side effects include: constipation, nausea, and killing your four children with hollowpoints."

      May 22, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |

      It isn't prescription unless your doctor is satan himself. These are all the side effects of a maddening PCP addiction.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Justa

      You can get PCP by prescription?

      May 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Williams

    What a shame

    May 22, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. gary

    human are vile

    May 22, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. begreen3850

    She unloaded 18 rounds into the children to make certain they were dead.

    She reloaded one round for herself and made certain it only took one round.

    Mom was an incredibly angry woman to pump that much steel into a bunch of kids.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Chill Out

      Maybe she just had poor aim and the point of impact wasn't fatal with the first rounds, so she resorted to volume-of-fire. Maybe they were moving targets, running around, which makes target acquisition more challenging.

      May 23, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. justin

    Why did the neighbors let them go back to their mother? What the hell? Why did they go?

    May 22, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      Good Question. I wondered the same thing...

      May 22, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandi

      I was wondering the same thing – I wonder why the neighbor didn't intervene? I'm not blaming them – horrible situation – but it just seems odd they'd waltz over there and then just go back without anyone questioning it.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • kdv1974

      My thoughts exactly...I hope there's a
      good explanation for that

      May 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • J Davis

      That's what I'm wondering! Let her finish the job? Nice neighbor!

      May 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • CM

      A disfunctional family structure often makes things that seem... crazy to normal people a non-issue to others. For example you often hear stories about parents passed out on the kitchen floor but to someone who lives with an alcoholic this becomes "normal." Violence was clearly the way things worked in that house so the kids probably just thought this was another "mom moment" and it would be better to go back than run away. Perhaps she had waved her gun around before and they weren't sure how serious this really was...

      May 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. begreen3850

    math wiz-Mom knew what she was doing. She emptied 18 rounds into the kids (three loads) Then reloaded one bullet for herself. That's four reloads.

    We probably need to accept that mom had planned, practiced, and then executed the entire murder-suicide plot in advance. The gun dealers might know unless she had an illegal gun.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • n3mra

      if gun dealers could predict the future and read minds, would they be working at a small business 6+ days a week?

      May 23, 2012 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
  13. russellQbones

    The kids couldn't have been that bad, they came home when the mother called them back.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Terri

    I have read several articles on this incident, but nowhere do I see why the neighbor didn't try to protect the kids and just let them walk back to their home. If the kids told the neighbor they were shot, as this article states, then they should have done something to protect these poor innocent kids.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Jenni

      I read when the kids came to the door the neighboor were confused as to who had the gun. One of the kids stated the brother shot – which was misunderstood as the brother with them was shooting. The neighboors called 911 immediately but feared for their own safety. Not knowing if one of the kids at the door had a gun they didn't let them in.....overall a very sad story....

      May 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thomas Machuca Calderon

    This is a very sad story,yes life may be hard and sometime not fair my only question where is the father?

    May 22, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • 72 percent born to unwed mothers

      Where's the father? Are you kidding me?

      May 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
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