Vigils Held For 4 Slain Florida Children, Mother

9:20 AM, May 17, 2012   |    comments
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(Melbourne, FL) -- Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday at separate vigils for four children and their mother, who police say shot the children to death before killing herself.

One question seemed to linger over both gatherings: "How could such an unimaginable tragedy happen?"

Early Wednesday evening, some 200 people, mostly teens, mingled in front of the Port St. John home where Tonya Thomas and her four children, Pebbles Johnson, 17, Jaxs Johnson, 15, Jazzlyn Johnson, 13, and Joel Johnson, 12, died the day before.

"It's terrible their mother could have done that," said one girl who said she had known Jazzlyn for two years.

Flowers, handwritten notes, candles and basketballs were arranged around the house. Vigil participants struggled to relight candles in the rain.

A short time later at the First Baptist Church of Port St. John, high school student Desmond Pentony, 17, , wondered why the Brevard County Sheriff's Office didn't move faster to stop the shooting.
"I think action by the police could have been done more suddenly," Pentony said before the vigil, where about 500 people gathered.

At the Thomas home, some wondered why neighbors, who called 911 about the shooting, didn't do more to protect three of the Johnson children who pounded on their door after the shootings started.

"I don't understand how the neighbors could have sent them away," said Guida Derouen, a single mom who said her son knew the three older Johnson children.

About the time people were beginning to gather outside the family's home, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office released an edited version of the 20-minute series of phone calls between those neighbors and 911 dispatchers. The harrowing recording paints a picture of a chaotic situation where the neighbors were unsure who had shot whom and who was armed and unarmed. The neighbors didn't let the children into their home, and the children's mother, Thomas, summoned them to come home, something they apparently did voluntarily.

Andrew Carrington, pastor of First Baptist Church of Port St. John, said the community first needs to heal.

"This is not the time or place to point fingers or try to figure out who is to blame; we are going to leave that for another time when more facts have been able to surface," Carrington said. "Our town is reeling, and asking, 'What is going on?' "

The community has changed quickly for Carrington, who came to the church from Arkansas earlier this year.

"People keep saying this is a town where we didn't have to lock our doors, you could go to bed without worrying, and all of a sudden this week it seems like everything changed," he said, referring to Tuesday's tragedy and a shooting Friday that killed a man.
Darius Tripp, a pastor of Agape Fellowship in Orlando who lives in Titusville, asked the community to become more engaged with each other.

"We want to send a message that we are here to give hope, love and encouragement," Tripp said.

"We need to love more and support one another. People are crying out. They are telling us what they need, but we are not listening."
Tripp says he is guilty of that, even as a pastor.

On Friday, Tanya Thomas was at Tripp's food pantry in Titusville. As he was carrying the food to her car, she asked him to pray for her.

"I didn't think anything of it at the time," Tripp said. "But what I should of done was say, 'Tanya, let us pray right now.' "

"We need to take the time to start listening to people, and spending time with people when they need to talk."

By SCOTT GUNNERSON
and ANDREW FORD
Florida Today

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