Note: On Tuesday, May 15; in Port St. John, Florida, Tonya Thomas, a 33 year old Mother, killed her four children, Joel Johnson, 12, Jazzlyn Johnson, 13, Jaxs Johnson 15, and Pebbles Johnson, 17, before turning the gun on herself. There is no known motive for the killings at this time.
I’m not some small town rube who is easily shocked by violence. In fact the day it happened, when the details were still vague, and the news was reporting on SWAT teams in the area and a shooting, I just thought, “Oh well. Another meth lab/grow house/wanna-be gangsta got caught up in the game and the game caught up with them.”
But of course, there was more to it. This was the rarest of murders. Where a mother kills all of her nearly grown children.
Filicide. An obscure term I had to look up, and a word spell check doesn’t acknowledge.
Infanticide a la Andrea Yates is hard to fathom, but anyone who has ever been at wits end because of a constantly crying child who can’t be appeased and can’t explain what’s wrong, can understand how an adult might lose their cool. How a sleep deprived, emotionally taxed person might do and say things they wouldn’t other wise dream of. Patience isn’t something issued to a parent with the arrival of a newborn. It doesn’t take hearing voices in your head to be worn out by a baby, let alone a house full of them.
But to arrive at this point, where a mother decides to carry out the calculated execution style murder of her own children, is really hard to wrap one’s head around. Everything changed after hearing the details of this particular case. For a lot of reasons. Again, when I thought this was some drug deal gone wrong, I was non-plussed and in a good, nay, ebullient mood over a recent legal windfall.
The killings took place down the street from me, figuratively speaking. It was down the street from my child’s school, quite literally, forcing it into lockdown mode. That afternoon I would have to sit down with an eight year old and try to explain actions there can be no good explanation for. She was saddened for the senseless loss of a schoolmate she didn’t know. Saddened, because those who did know the youngest victim were so clearly, and rightly upset. And it’s hard to understand how anyone might arrive at a moment of such extreme despair, that this seems like the best solution.
I’ve lived through the quaint hell that is an active warzone. Lived in Southern California, close enough toLos Angelesto experience and feel that tension of perennial anger and regular percussive sounds of gunplay. The gunfire and explosions and/or constant chatter/reporting on said violence is like background music. One can quickly become used to this drone, and learn to tune it out to some extent. Gangs and examples of thug life can be found on most every corner. “California Dreaming” indeed . . .
But still this is one of those rare exceptions where most everyone who hears this news story is caught off guard. There’s different people, pastors and other community leaders on the news now saying, “This is why we need to involve ourselves in the lives of our neighbors, and really get to know them. In order to be able to prevent something like this happening again.”
Yeah, well good luck with that. I have neighbors I like and neighbors I don’t. Most of whom likely feel the same way about me. And even if I was so inclined, I’m not going to try and squeeze this sort of well intentioned snooping into my schedule when I have so many other things to attend to.
There are so many unanswered questions, surrounding the case, it can be painful to even try and think about making heads or tails of it. Mother Tanya Thomas didn’t leave a wealth of clues for investigators to organize into answers. Yes, the family had loud and obvious quarrels, but nothing that brings to mind the term mass murder. But really, what does?
I recently interviewed a formerHaight-Ashburyneighbor of Charles Manson’s. Even during the famous high profile trial, this former neighbor didn’t put together that this was the stoop shouldered hippie who lived half a block a way from her onFrederick Street. It wasn’t until reading the book, ‘Helter Skelter,’ was she able to place him. And surprised? “He was just another hippie. You’d never look at him twice and think he was capable of anything so evil.”
As friends, neighbors and complete strangers gather to leave candles, notes, prayers and stuffed animals in front of the house, near the spot where the oldest daughter was gunned down on the lawn; I have to ask who is it they are memorializing? The youthful promise of life cut short? People they actually knew and cared about? A domestic tragedy that can’t be ignored? This small action is designed to give peace to people who’d never bother themselves with the victims otherwise.
This is a small community after all. Will there be wagging tongues for anyone not sharing the proper amount of grief?
That deep ache of loss and sadness I feel, I think is as much for the killer as her kids. Through the muddled mess of her mind she arrived at this conclusion in the rainy, pre-dawn early morning hours of an otherwise quite day. Shattering the stillness of the neighborhood, her terrified children had run to a neighbors home. The people living there, so suddenly awakened, had difficulty making heads or tails out of what was happening.
And then the three youngest children, most likely torn between fear and a sense of loyalty and obedience, returned home when their mother called for them. Possibly understanding what awaited them, resigned, they returned to their house, and one by one, the woman who had given them life, removed them and then herself. .
What crossed their minds in these last moments? Were they pleading for their mom to come to her senses or was there the realization this is it? The answers will most likely be insufficient. The hemming and hawing of the well intentioned over what could have been, should have been done will be so much useless blather. We shall all have to come to our own conclusions, and try to make sense of it all, find whatever peace we can with 5 unnecessary deaths.