Neighbours of the home in Port St. John, 15 miles west of Cape Canaveral, were awakened around 4:30 a.m. yesterday by the sounds of gunfire. As reported by AP
, one neighbour heard a knock on the door shortly after the gunfire. When the door was opened, three of Tonya Thomas' children were standing there asking for help. According to WTSP
, the three kids had been injured.
Before the neighbour could do anything, Thomas came out of her house and ordered her children back inside. For reasons that will probably never be known, the children complied.
When police arrived, they found a 17-year-old girl lying on the lawn. She was put into an ambulance but was pronounced dead at the scene. A SWAT team then entered the home and discovered the bodies of Thomas and the other three children in the rear of the house. All had suffered fatal gunshot wounds.
The dead children have been identified as Joel Johnson, 12, Jazzlyn Johnson, 13, Jax Johnson, 15, and Pebbles Johnson, 17.
At 3 a.m, one and a half hours before the shooting started, Thomas sent a text message to a co-worker. As reported by ABC News
, the message said,
Tell my mom what happened, I want to be cremated with my children.
The co-worker did not receive the message until he woke up later that morning.
These killings were the worst murders committed in Brevard County since 1987.
Lt. Tod Goodyear of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office was quoted by ABC News
This is a bit different because they were older kids. To kill all four, I can't remember the last time a mom killed this many of her children.
Thomas had been arrested 10 years ago for hitting the children's father who now lives in Titusville and has not been around in months. The charge was later dropped.
According to the Washington Post
, authorities visited the home on three successive days in April. The first visit was after Jax was alleged to have thrown a bicycle through a window. The next day, sheriff's deputies again went to the home after Jax was alleged to have punched and kicked his mother. According to Florida Today
, Jax was charged with battery and was due in juvenile court hours after he was killed.
The third day saw a visit from child welfare workers who were investigating whether or not the children were being properly supervised.
Jamie Hudson told the Washington Post
the boys were troublemakers who had fired BBs at a home on the street and threatened to burn it down. He said,
It's been an ongoing problem on our street with them.
But others downplayed the famiiy's difficulties. Austin Lewis, a 16-year-old who went to school with Pebbles. said the family had problems like everyone else but "nothing drastic." And Jarvis Wash, the pastor of the church the family attended described the problems as "normal stuff."
Unless Thomas left a note or another message, what caused her to kill her four children may never be known.