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. Martian

    It may be news, but did anyone really need to know that these porr kids last memory is their momma shooting them at close range. We knew she shot and killed them, did we really need the details.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. LJ

    So sad, they look like really nice kids

    May 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Magick Wanderer

    Sad news indeed. Why does she have a different last name to all of her children and where was their father? Why was he spared a bullet?

    May 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Martian

      Most likely fathers... America is falling apart.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justa

      They all had the same father. Since you two are flinging it, here's a thought: a deadbeat father...but nobody knows...so hush.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustMe

      You really don't know why family members have different last names? Or that there often isn't a father in the home?

      May 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • yoyolite

      There are lots of children that have different last names than their mothers across the races. So what? I am married to my children's father but I still use my maiden name,.One would assum because my last name is different that I am not married to their father. Who cares?

      May 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • DMP

      What does their last name have to do with this brutal killing? Did it ever occur to you that she may be divorced and their father didn't live there? All of the speculation is reductions. People are drawing conclusions about this situation and we only have about a tenth of the information as to what went on in that house.

      May 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michelle AbuAwad

    I want to know where were the people who could have helped save these children's lives? Was there not a single brave person in the area to intervene. 19 shots from a revolver means the revolver was reloaded 4 times. Not just that but that the shooting was heard and kids went to the neighbors door and the neighbors didn't drag them inside, shut the door lock it and call the police. Where has compassion gone?

    May 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mary

    How is it possible that the police could make a discombobulated statement as that?
    Moreover, why wouldn't any reporter *press* the issue of such a statement?.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Samuel

    Why would the kids return to the house ?

    May 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cope

      agreed!! why would they return after being shot?? sad situation. 🙁

      May 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michelle AbuAwad

    It really doesn't matter how many times it was loaded 3 or 4. I think it was 4 and the fourth time was a single bullet she used on herself. What REALLY matters here was that no one did anything to come to the aid of the children and when they did decide to do something it was too late.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • soso

      It was like 4am.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. thadirector

    This is just a sad story all around – what does race have to do with anything? We can't understand what went on in this woman's mind and nor will we ever be able to. There is enough hate and despair in this world – can't we show some compassion?

    May 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • rs

      You are right.

      Racist "whites" on this list seem to forget the number of white women incedents who have killed their children.
      I grieve for a society where a Mom can get so overwhelmed and frustrated she takes it out on the family.
      I further grieve that belittling this incident is what is the norm for so many people on this site.
      What a bunch of small minded morons.

      May 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mary

    Silly ignorance 😉 (you)

    May 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kristin

    This absolutely breaks my heart. And no, this is not a race issue. Black, white and brown people have all done terribly evil things. I just can't imagine what those poor children endured. The fear. People now days try to not become involved in other people's business because they don't want to be seen as nosy. I wish someone would have been perceptive enough to notice somethhing was off. Rest in peace dear children.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. disheartened

    How sad. What beautiful children.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JustMe

    Those are the children – probably school portraits. How can you sit there and call a murdered child 'Jar Jar Binks'??

    May 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marla123

    This woman really needed help. Her children, with the right guidance, could have had a completely different life. It's what we as Black parents must make our children see is that there are opportunities out there for them, despite the difficulties in life, through education and hard work and staying out of trouble with the law because that is the downfall for all too many. It's a struggle, but one generations of Black people have been dealing with. She took a coward's way out. Those poor kids. My heart aches for them.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • edjunkie

      Marla, I do not, in any way, diminish the plight of Blacks or any other minority in this world. However, there are millions of people of all races and nationalities that face the same mountain faced by Blacks when it comes to breaking a cycle of poverty/abuse/crime. Be assured that these issues are not particular to any race. We all suffer the same and we all bleed red. Someday, I pray that the color of our skin will not be a factor for good or evil. People are people are people. We're all one in the eyes of God. We need to learn to see things through His eyes.

      May 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Parkerman

    Why would the kids go back if the mom is shooting. Something odd about that.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Z_2k

      If they ha been shot when they went to the neighbor's house, why didn't the neighbor let them in and/or call the POlice ?

      May 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CommonSense

    Uhhhh, all this arguing about the number of reloads, bickering about whether the gun was loaded "before"... seriously folks?

    What blows me away is that the woman shot the kids, some went to a neighbor's house AFTER being shot, and then when mama called, they returned so she could shoot them again? Either the facts were reported wrong, or there is some serious degradation of mental facilities involved.

    It's commonly understood that if someone shoots you and you survive long enough to get the eff away, you simply DON'T GO BACK TO THE SHOOTER!

    May 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • edjunkie

      Perhaps she shot each child once, then reloaded once they were all down? That makes much more sense. If some were unscathed, how would she force them to stay put while she reloaded.

      This is a disgusting event. Definitely some mental breakdown happened.

      May 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
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