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. Jan

    I can't even imagine how the neighbor is feeling. Those children came to you and told you they had been shot by their mother then when the mother called them – you allowed them to go back to her and their death. What were you thinking ?? Never mind...obviously you weren't thinking

    May 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Whome

    What a sad turn of events my the Lord watch over the children's souls and me he give peace to the family.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |

    SO SO SO SAD............life is precious. What is going on with our society and peoole killing their children.......our country needs to start praying more........reaching out and helping others more.........caring more........What is it gonna be like in 20 years!!!!!!

    May 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. demo Joseph

    Well I am a woman and she maybe crazy. But I would say she is angry at someone else or at herself which maybe crazy. But I think she knew what she was doing. I think she forgot to care when the rage hit her. "Women have a way of blaming just like men" when their lives cannot be in their control – they take it out on someone else. It's called domestic violence and the mix does not have to men and women only. People in general think children are property. My only question is "why aren't these churches preaching Birth Control" We should think before having a child. This is a life time job. It does not go away until one of you do. The church is not a family advocate, they are all about teaching in the pass. Teach your people to think, instead of trying to control them by fear....

    May 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jlala

    Guns don't kill people. People kill people.
    Religion doesn't kill people. People kill people.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ed


    May 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Harkkonen4

    Sounds like the neighbors reported that the kids were "terrorizing" the neighborhood ...the mom may have lost control over them. So sad to end it like she did. If her kids weren't listening and she'd lost authority; there is always foster care. CPS does a wonderful job of instilling values in kids–not to mention taking good care of them.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • cheryl

      There are options to killing, but your description of what typically happens in foster care is untrue.

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

      You're making it sound like the kids are responsiblefor their own deaths. What's wrong with you? Most children go through a rebellious stage. That's a part of growing up. These were not bad kids, just kids. The mother was a psycho evidently. She is the one responsible. I so wish the neighbor would have done something. If a neighborhood kid came to my door telling me their Momma shot them, I would call the police.

      May 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justa

      Where did you come up with this info, Harkkonen? Oh, ok, you just made it up.

      May 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. look around

    reach out to the kids around you who may need someone to talk to about their predicament or feelings. let them know that there are people who'd love to help them.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Judi

    May God Bless these beatiful children. My heart breaks when I think about what they suffered through in their last moments, at the hands of their own mother, and for their loved ones left with the pain of this senseless loss of lives.

    When is this nonsense going to stop!!

    May 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • P ferris

      how exactly does will your "god" bless them..?? and what good is a blessing from a fake made up figure in the sky gonna do now?? Where was he before this happened? That's when your phony balony "god" should have got involved. not after they were shot in the head multiple times


      May 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott Pilgrim beat The World

      P Ferris, no one is trying to convert you. Stop religion-bashing just because someone expressed condolences in their own way. Do you flip out when people say "bless you" after a sneeze, too?

      May 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Semper fi

    This is complete insanity! Shooting your children........reloading ....giving time to think about what the H E LL your doing and continuing. God please give these children eternal love and grace...Their Mom? Thats for God to judge...I know how I feel about her.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aida

      So Tanya is 33 and killed her eldest 17-year old daughter Pebbles–she was 16 when she had her followed by the other 3. The children appear well groomed and happy in the photos-what a tragedy!

      May 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. D_J

    This entire story does not pass the smell test and I, first and foremost, question CNN for even posting something like this.
    First, I was not there, so I, nor anyone else could or should have posted any remarks speculating on the firearm, as the original firearm was not known.
    Second, all of those children were old enough to KNOW the business end of a gun equals fatalities.
    Third, children, more than one as the original story was posted, fled the crime scene, to go to a neighbor's home, then went back to the crime scene only to endure more punishment.
    Fourth, the alleged neighbor allowed this, instead of attempting to secure the children, then call law enforcement.
    Fifth, and most of all questioning the news media.......
    Is the "Florida Today" owned and operated by the National Inquirer?

    May 22, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mario

    does it matter how many times she reloaded????

    May 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Keith

    So, can someone explain to me why the children went back?

    Looks like a sick mother and Darwin got the rest.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meghan

      She obviously controlled them and they lived in fear to go back when she called them rather than running further from the neighbors or hiding....such a tragedy.

      May 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      It is a sad, sad horrible thing to happen for a mother to take the lives of her children.

      May 22, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bev

    why does no one mention why the neighbor let the kids go back after hearing shots and the kids at his door saying there mother shot them. why did he not bring them inside his home and call the police. He could have saved 3 of these kids.

    May 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Meghan

    How sad–I was not there but why didn't the neighbor take the three alive children in and call 911 to save them? The mother called them back in and they went? OMG! How tragic.......such a loss.

    May 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
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