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. redmonde

    Oh My God.. Just horrible.. Praying for the father and other family members of this family. I just can't understand why get away from the mom and then return when she calls for you.. Clearly, they were terrified and were not thinking clearly in this situation to run as far away they could... Poor Kids.....

    May 22, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. Justa

    Yeah, I saw that this morning...what was UP with that??

    May 22, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Phil Spectre

    Someone could say, "The father was somewhere smoking crack", but in all honesty it is PCP. He will surely be another casualty as he will end up running into traffic or charging at a neighborhood watch person and getting shot. There is no answer here. Only gaping slack-jawed astonishment.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. Justa

    Oh, bs. Now you're just making garbage up.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    Florida is on fire. This hatred and drug-fueled insanity has been building for years. It will be burnt to the ground by it's own inhabitants and shoved off into the gulf stream as the doomed peninsula it is.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. David

    This is sad and there is no justification for killing your children. suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |

    @Justa – Why? Because CNN is deathly afraid of reporting this? Do you have evidence that this is NOT happening? This real problem will surface when people figure it out. Then you'll be saying, "OF COURSE it was PCP!"

    May 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jim

    More likely reason is; an extreme example of selfishness and spite.
    Denying the other parent the chance to raise the children.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Naomi Aoki

    Would it be too much to ask for a bit of compassion and/or decorum at this moment?

    Four children lost their lives to the hands that they trusted to protect them the most, this is NOT a moment to make this a black-or-white, Trayvon, Sharpton issue.

    I am so disappointed in the HUMAN race as of late, everyone has an agenda. It's no longer about sympathizing and having compassion for your fellow man anymore.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Get out of here

      My country was civilized a few decades ago. You pretending everyone is equal is the problem. The second these kids were born they had tragedy written all over them.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • looseleaf


      May 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LoopsFroot

    OMG, how awful 🙁

    May 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ma & pa

    @Chris at 11:28a.m. ...True. Government attempting to micro-manage our lives and many trying to use law on us are too inexperienced in reality to run even their own lives kindly. But we think this mother had gone to the other extreme of almost complete mental control of three chidren and would kill the one who wanted to do his own thinking. And it went from there. It's another example of "Submit or Die" thinking by those who try to put themselves above our Creator. May the innocents have Peace.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |

    Wow its amazing that for once the news source actually mentioned that a handgun was used instead of covering it up like they usually do but this does fit the pattern... The saliient detail is usually ommitted in initial coverage of these events sometimes drops in the middle of the data strea as articles come out only to disappear at the end. All of this helping to cover up what everyone knows. We dont have a gun problem we have a handgun problem. Guns dont kill people. People with handguns kill people. The second amendment is warped beyond recognition because it has assisted the associated legal professionals in usurping control of government, oppressing minorities, keeping the drug war and gangsterism going and of course the law enforcement "executive" wants to walk around wearing theirs in public. 2012 IS THE YEAR THE TIME IS NOW LETS END HANDGUN VIOLENCE AND DISARM THE POLICE. Ban all handguns and military weapons. The handgun has no place in legitimate sport its only purpose is to kill people. Theres no reason police weapons shouldnt be locked in the trunk of the car or back at the station to be UNLOCKED only in case of emergency with a lock that will record that it has been used.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • doughnuts

      Yes, that evil handgun jumped up all by itself and shot all those people. Ho human needed, just an evil murdering peice of steel.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • scott

      lLeave it to someone to make this a GUN issue versus a people/society issue. There has been little statistical evidence that banning handguns reduces violent crime, in fact it often shows the opposite....THE VILLIANS DON'T FOLLOW LAWS ANYWAY!!!!!

      Yes this is a bad situation and it shouldn't have happened, but it's not the gun's fault.....
      you had the saying almost correct...."Guns (hand or otherwise) do not kill people, PEOPLE kill people."
      The kids in Columbine did not use a hand gun, the shooter at Penn state did not use a handgun!!

      May 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Howdydoody

      You've never lived in the real world have you? Whether you are pro gun rights or against gun rights, you have to understand. The cat is out of the bag. Guns are out there and there is nothing you can do to collect them all without forcibly going into every home, building, car, body cavity, manhole cover, storm drain ect to get them all.
      Guns are tools. If this woman didn't have a gun, she would have stabbed her kids to death or drowned them in the bath tub like other moms do. Don't demonize the tool, demonize the person.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      A great idea - provided you can convince the bad people to schedule those "emergencies" in advance so our "protectors" can be on the scene and properly equipped to deal with them.

      May 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Another "anti" rant. Crawl back under your rock please.

      May 23, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Linda

    Shot at close range with hollow-point bullets?? How in the world did those three kids manage to walk to the neighbor's house AFTER being shot once like that? Only to walk back home and be shot again, numerous times!! It never ceases to shock and amaze me at how cruel our species can be. RIP young souls!

    May 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. realistic


    May 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Katy

    If she had to reload, why did the kids, not already shot and dead, stand there? My first thought after the first shot would have been 'feet don't fail me now".

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