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. EGB2

    There were plenty of warning signs that the mother and her family were troubled. Jaxs had been arrested for battery, and the mother failed to pick him up from the juvenile facility. Other news articles report that the Department of Children and Families had hundreds of pages relating to investigation of the family, including interviews of each child in the weeks leading up to the murders.

    May 23, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ego Sum lamia

    4 children are dead and all you can focus on is load, loaded and re-loaded? The media and internet has so desensitize people that it's sad there is no compassion. If this were your family how would you feel about these comments? Oh never mind, it isn't your family, so you don't really care. Stop blaming the economy, government and others for the shape this world is in and do a little self-evaluation and take some personal responsibility. What a sad shape the human race has evolved into.

    May 23, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      You are an idiot. This is a news story about the shooting itself. Its not an obituary page you sap. Grow up and write your own article.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • asdfasdfaf

      So if everyone should feel bad about every event, we would never get anything done.

      Grow a pair and quit complaining over every single event in the world.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Whatacomment!

      Wow. What a comment! Hats off! I totally agree!

      May 23, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • confused...

      How could she do that unless the kids stood there and accepted it.?? I"m confused, I'm sorry.

      May 23, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Knucklehead

    Sweet Home Alabama....time to wash your white pointy hat...

    May 23, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. Melodykari78

    This tragedy is horrible and baffling to me, but even more so is that a mother would want to destroy her children's bodies THAT badly. How could she just keep shooting and shooting?

    May 23, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • thomas

      Would the story really be that much better if she only shot her children once?

      I think you are focusing on the wrong facts. What is tragic is that a parent killed their kids.

      May 23, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jep11

    The only good thing about this story is the fact that the mother killed herself afterwards. Unfortunately, she didn't kill herself first. Then, we wouldn't be having this conversation. GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE!!

    May 23, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • pablogogo

      -" GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE!!"
      -thats the most annoying, and simple-minded defensive quote i here over and over gun-lovers like to use.
      is that the same as replacing the word Gun with Nukes, Landmines, grenades...etc. the point is while certainly it takes a human to fire them they were built and designed by humans to do nothing other than to kill another human. very simple. hand guns are made for one thing only and that is to kill another human. not fur hunting. not for target practice.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @pablogogo
      The reason it’s still around is because you self righteous, naive anti-gun types can’t come up with a rebuttal of equal standing. You blame inanimate objects for the ACTIONS of a person. Talk about simple minded.

      Its fact, deal with it.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ms Marsha's Angels

    Oh my GOD, shame on you, These were babies of our land, they deserved to live, thrive and be a part of this world, no matter the origin of the father, or whether the mother was crazy, or whether or not they were "high". How cruel to say such things and to call them Knee-Gers!!, have you no shame? of course not, is this what you have been called all your life since you all seem to know so much about cruelty? Please if you hav any kind of a heart, refrain from name calling where these kids are concerned, so that the family will not recoil as i did when i saw these comments. Please let those babies have a memory untainted by the things that you say to the world about them. Just out of the kindness of your heart?

    May 23, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • david

      Very well said.

      May 23, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jose Cuervo

    That's how they teach math in the ghetto schools: 18 bullets divided by 4 dead kids=?

    May 23, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. YesItsMe

    And your ignorance been out of hand... Must feel tough when you can hide behind that computer screen. Grow up!!!

    May 23, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jan

    you've got to be kidding.....you must be a horribly sad, lonely, sicko......

    May 23, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. Veronica

    Wow Joe..Really...

    May 23, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. ChadD

    Amen Brother!

    May 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dejan

    This is what happens when you have four kids before you even turn 21.

    May 23, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • MNTaxpayer

      No, this is what happens when you are menatlly ill and have four children.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      You are both right.
      You have to be mentally ill to have 4 children before you are 21. That or just plain stupid.

      May 23, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • looseleaf

      where is her "babys daddy"

      May 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. boss

    Joe D I am glad that you wrote "god" with lower case "g" because with that comment I wonder if you talking about the same God everybody praying.
    Now when it come to black or white thing i will not respond to you because doing so will be puting myself in the same level with you.

    May 23, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. Brandon Donavan

    "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."

    Wrong. She fired 6 shots, then reloaded, shot 6 more and reloaded again. She RE-loaded twice. I know this is a stupid point to argue, but gun store owner Herb Stratton isn't too bright."

    May 23, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • me

      Brandon the kids were shot 18 times...plus she shot herself (thankfully) that would mean she reloaded 3 times..Herb was right...just sayin

      May 23, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • joni

      it might not be that the gun store owner made a mistake , it might have been the reporter / person interviewing him.

      May 23, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Just Me

    I don't know this family. I don't know anything about them. I lived in the area they lived in so I guess that would be a valid connection. But, put that aside. The 2 saddest and most troubpling things I see in this story is one, the pictures of these children. 3 out of the 4 appear to be so happy. The first one, doesn't have that smile but then again, I don't smile either when I have pictures taken so that doesn't mean she wasn't happy as well. And the 2nd...if I had been a neighbor that 3 children came to and told me their mom was shooting them, there isn't a chance in H*ll that I would let those children return to their home. They would have been brought into my house, doors locked and police called. I have to wonder how that neighbor will handle knowing that they played a part in this, even though they didn't mean to. I'm not blaming the neighbor. I just don't understand how anyone could let that happen. Maybe they thought the kids were joking. But if I remember correctly, an earlier story stated neighbors heard gunshots. Still, even if it had been a joke, I would have to stand my ground and say better safe than not.

    May 23, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
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