US mum kills her four kids, then herself

Last updated 09:25 16/05/2012

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A Florida mother who fatally shot her four children before killing herself called three of the kids who had sought help from a neighbour back to the house before firing the fatal shots, authorities said.

Thirty-three-year-old Tonya Thomas fatally shot her four children, who ranged in age from 12 to 17, said Lieutenant Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

Three of the children had gone to a neighbour'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 neighbours said, she was very calm. She walked out and called them back. They turned around and walked back to the house," Goodyear said.

The neighbour then heard gunshots and called 911.

Another neighbour 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 25km 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.

Dispatch records released early today (NZ time) show that authorities responded to Thomas' house on three successive days in April.

In the first visit, on Easter Sunday, Thomas reported that her son had thrown a bicycle through a window at the house. The next day, Thomas called to report that her son had kicked and punched her when she tried to wake him up for school. The following day, child welfare investigators visited the house to look into allegations of inadequate supervision of the children.

Records also showed that Thomas was arrested in 2002 on a misdemeanor battery charge for striking the father of her children. The charge was later dropped. Two years earlier, she filed a domestic violence complaint against Joe Johnson, but that was dismissed after a hearing.

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.

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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."

- AP

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