PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. - A Brevard County mother who fatally shot her four children before killing herself Tuesday called three of the kids who had sought help from a neighbor back to the house before firing the fatal shots, authorities said.
Tonya Thomas, 33, fatally shot her four children, who ranged in age from 12 to 17, said Lt. Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.
Three of the children had gone to a neighbor's front door before dawn to say their mother had shot them. The mother then called the children back to the house and killed them, Goodyear 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 neighbor then heard gunshots and called 911.
"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.
Another neighbor told deputies that Thomas sent a text message in the middle of the night saying she wanted to be cremated with her children.
"He didn't see the text until he woke up this morning," Goodyear said.
Deputies identified the children as Pebbles Johnson, 17; Jaxs Johnson, 15; Jazlin Johnson, 13; and Joel Johnson, 12.
The shooting happened in Port St. John, about 15 miles west of Cape Canaveral in an area known as the "Space Coast" because it is the home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the location of numerous famed shuttle launches.
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.
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.
"I don't know what could have happened in the past couple of days," Wash said. "It's a tragedy to the church and the community."
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.
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