By Mallory Simon and Brad Lendon, CNN
(CNN) – The Florida woman who killed her four children before committing suicide last week used jacketed hollow-point bullets fired at very close range, no more than 2 feet away, according to the Brevard County District Medical Examiner.
Medical Examiner Sajid Qaiser said Tonya Thomas, 33, fired a Taurus .38-caliber gun, hitting her children 18 times before taking her own life. Most of the wounds on Pebbles Johnson, 17; Jaxs Johnson, 15; Jazzlyn Johnson, 13; and Joel Johnson, 12, were on the fronts of their bodies, indicating they were shot as their mother faced them, Qaiser said.
Qaiser said none of the children or their mother had major defensive wounds, indicating that there was no significant struggle before or during the shootings. Thomas then placed the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger, killing herself.
Qaiser said he noticed changes in Thomas’ liver and ordered toxicology screens on Thomas and all of her children. The full autopsy will not be released until those results come back, which could take several weeks, Qaiser said.
“I know everyone is thirsty to know why (the children) were not able to escape out of the house, how come one person shot their children so many times,” he said. “But we don’t have all of the information yet.”
Jazzlyn was shot the most, seven times. The gunshots perforated her lung three times as well as her spleen, pancreas, stomach and spine, Qaiser said.
Joel was shot five times. Jaxs took three bullets in his chest.
“Many of the shots were taken at contact range,” Qaiser said. “You can tell from the wounds and the clothing that the muzzle of the gun was pressed against the clothing, the body.”
Pebbles was also shot three times.
Gun store owner Herb Stratton told Florida Today that the Taurus .38-caliber can hold six shots, meaning Thomas reloaded three times during the shootings.
Police said last week that three of the children had gone to a neighbor’s house in Port St. John to say their mother had shot them. Thomas then called them back home before killing them.
Police said last week that they didn’t know of a motive in the shooting. Friends and court documents, however, revealed that Jaxs and his mother were having difficulties.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said last week that the circumstances appear to be a case of “suicide by proxy,” in which a family member takes the lives of loved ones “out of a warped sense of love” before killing herself.
“Typically, the perpetrator is suicidal, feels life is miserable and doesn’t want to go on,” Fox said. “But why does she take her children? Because she wished to be reunited with them in the afterlife or wants to spare them the misery of this life.”