More than a dozen Sheriff's deputies and SWAT team members were called out following reports of a shooting in Port St. John on Tuesday morning.
PORT ST. JOHN, Florida (FL Today) -- A 33-year-old mother went on a shooting spree, taking the lives of her four children during an early morning confrontation, Brevard County Sheriff's investigators said.
At one point, three of the wounded children ran to a neighbor's house but the mother stepped out and beckoned them to return to the home at 7245 Bright Ave., where they were fatally wounded before deputies arrived.
The BCSO, which is leading the investigation, identified the shooting victims as Joel Johnson, 12, Jazlin Johnson, 13, Jaxs, Johnson, 15, and Pebbles Johnson, 17. The mother, Tonya Thomas, reportedly sent a text out to a friend about 3 a.m. saying that she wanted to be cremated with her children but the friend did not receive the message until much later, said Tod Goodyear of the Brevard County sheriff's office.
"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," Goodyear said.
"We are just beginning the crime scene investigation and finishing up some interviews," he said earlier.
The Port St. John shootings were the single worst instance of multiple homicides to take place in Brevard County since the April 1987 shootings in Palm Bay involving William Cruse. Cruse shot and killed six people, including two Palm Bay police officers during a shooting spree. It was also the second deadly shooting to take place in Port St. John, an enclave of residential areas off of U.S. 1 in north Brevard, in the last week.
Sheriff's deputies and the SWAT team responded to the home in this modest, working class neighborhood just after a 5 a.m. call from a neighbor reporting hearing shots fired.
The neighbor also went to the door and found three of the children standing outside, bleeding and asking for help, Goodyear said. It was then that Thomas stepped out and told the children to return home. The children, obviously injured, still listened to their mother and walked back to the home, Goodyear said. Once inside, more gunfire ensued, authorities report.
Goodyear said that Deputies arrived a short time later saw someone at the front door go back into the house.
Deputies then spotted one shooting victim, the 17-year-old, lying unconscious in the front yard. Deputies pulled up to the yard in a patrol car, loaded her inside and drove her to a waiting ambulance. She was declared dead at the scene by paramedics.
Deputies positioned outside of the home saw movement inside the residence, including what appeared to be a lit cigarette, Goodyear said. Then came a final shot, he said.
SWAT team members entered the home a short time later and found the bodies of the mother and the three other children, Goodyear said in a brief mid-morning news conference.
Goodyear said there had been previous police calls to the house. One of the teens, Jaxs Johnson, was set to appear in juvenile court today for a misdemeanor battery charge involving his mother. It was not known if that hearing played a role in the shootings.
Neighbors were stunned at the scope of the shootings, which came less than a week after another homicide in Port St. John and just two days after Mother's Day.
Travis St. Peter, 27, who lived about three houses down from the family until two days ago, said that the family was known in the neighborhood for being disruptive and said police were often at the house.
The Sheriff's Office has informed Brevard Public Schools of the deaths and is working with the school district to take whatever action is necessary to prepare school staff and classmates for the news.
The school district is awaiting word from authorities of the individuals' names.
"If it becomes necessary, we are fully prepared to support the schools in whatever capacity necessary," said Christine Davis, spokeswoman for Brevard Public Schools.
Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call BCSO at 321-633-7162.
J.D. Gallop and Scott Gunnerson, Florida Today