MIAMI (Reuters) - A mother shot and killed her four children before turning a gun on herself in a small town in Florida on Tuesday, authorities said.
The shooting happened at a house in Port St. John, in Brevard County, about 15 miles from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
A spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff's office identified the victims as four children aged 12, 13, 15 and 17. They were shot by their 33-year-old mother, Tonya Thomas, who then turned the gun on herself, Tod Goodyear said.
All were shot with what appeared to be a handgun, he said.
Goodyear said a neighbor called police before dawn on Tuesday to report gunfire. When police arrived they found a fatally injured 17-year-old girl in the front yard of the house, which is in a quiet neighborhood of single family residences.
More shots were heard inside the house as a SWAT team arrived and entered through a back entrance, he said.
A neighbor told police that three of the children had banged on his door shortly before 5 a.m., Goodyear said. "One of them may have been shot and was bleeding, so the neighbor got a towel for the child," he said.
Tonya Thomas then appeared at the neighbor's door and ordered the children to return home, he said, adding: "They did. They turned around and walked back to the house."
It was the worst multiple homicide Goodyear could recall in Brevard County since a shooting in 1987 claimed six lives, including those of two police officers.
Goodyear said police had been called to the house on several occasions in the past and the 15-year-old child, a boy, was arrested last month for domestic violence against his mother.
Thomas's husband, the father of all of the children, moved out of the house a few months ago, he added.
"It's hard to take in. This is a pretty peaceful place, normally," he said.
Tuesday's incident was the second deadly shooting in Port St. John in the past week. Brevard County was the scene of six homicides in 2011, Goodyear said.
Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Tom Brown and David Brunnstrom