Deputies: Mother killed 4 children, self at Port St. John home

Children went to neighbor's house before returning home

Published On: May 15 2012 06:31:27 AM EDT   Updated On: May 15 2012 11:52:15 PM EDT
PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. -

A mother of four shot and killed her children -- three of whom returned home after fleeing -- before killing herself Tuesday morning at a Port St. John home, according to investigators.

The Brevard County Sheriff's Office said Tonya Thomas, 33, shot and killed her two daughters, 17-year-old Pebbles Johnson and 13-year-old Jazxlyn Johnson, and her two sons, 15-year-old Jaxs Johnson and 12-year-old Joel Johnson.

Brevard County sheriff's Lt. Tod Goodyear said three of the children went to a neighbor's house to say their mother had shot them.  The mother then called the children back to the house and shot them again, killing them, investigators said.

"From what the neighbors said, she was very calm. She walked out and called them back. They turned around and walked back to the house," Goodyear said. "I’m a father and I've got kids.  I cannot comprehend a person doing that to their child -- calling them back to the slaughter."

The neighbors called 911 just before 5 a.m. and deputies found Pebbles Johnson dead in the front yard of the home at 7245 Bright Avenue.

Deputies then spotted someone at the door, later identified as Tonya Thomas, and called the SWAT team, who later entered the home and found four people dead. Neighbors told Local 6 they were informed of the spotting of Tonya and told to evacuate.

"We have no idea on motive right now," said Goodyear, who added that no note or letter has been discovered.

The father of the children lives elsewhere in Brevard County and was very distraught upon hearing the news, Goodyear said.

A friend of Thomas told authorities that Thomas sent a text message around 3 a.m., saying she wanted to be cremated with her children.  The message wasn't received, however, until after the friend woke up, which was after the family was found dead.

More than a dozen deputies and SWAT team members had converged on the home and the neighborhood was cordoned off during the investigation.

A spokesman for the Department of Children and Families wouldn't immediately comment on whether the family had a history with the agency. Goodyear said deputies had responded to the house for domestic complaints previously. Thomas has no significant criminal history, and domestic battery charges against her were dropped in 2002.

Jamie Hudson, whose mother lives two doors down from the family, said the boys in the family were known to shoot BBs at a home across the street and had threatened to set it on fire.

"It has been an ongoing problem on our street with them," Hudson said.

Goodyear said Jaxs Johnson had recently been arrested on a domestic violence charge. He said he didn't know if the boy had been accused of hitting his mother or causing damage at the house.

A pastor at the church the family attended described it as "normal stuff."

"I think he was punching some walls or something," said Jarvis Wash, pastor of the Real Church in Rockledge, Fla.

Wash said the family attended services last Sunday but had been absent for a few weeks before that.

Tonya Thomas got pregnant with Pebbles three months after her 15th birthday by Joe L. Johnson, Jr., who was 19-years-old at the time. Thomas worked as a bank teller and a student assistant but often sought help from Johnson and her mother. Thomas was unemployed on food stamps, seeking child support from Johnson, but he rarely paid and owed more than $17,000 by 2008 when Thomas stopped trying.

Court records show that domestic violence was common between the couple, but after one battery, Thomas asked a judge to let Johnson back into the home to "help us become a family again."

Jaxs Johnson was set to appear in juvenile court on Tuesday for a misdemeanor battery charge involving his mother, but it's not known if the hearing played a role in the shootings.

Tuesday night, friends and neighbors started a memorial in front of the Thomas' home.

"We want people to know that they weren't forgotten, no matter what happened today," neighbor Tony Amador said.

School officials issued a statement after being informed of the deaths.

"Brevard Public Schools is saddened to learn of the tragic deaths of four of its students. The police have released the students' names and crisis teams/grief counselors have been sent to the respective schools to help students, faculty and staff deal with this heartbreaking news," school officials said.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.