Authorities investigating apparent triple deaths in Semmes; 2 children among the dead

Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 1:41 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2023 at 2:55 PM CDT
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SEMMES, Ala. (WALA) - A woman and her two young children died violently Thursday, although law enforcement investigators said they were trying to determine whether it was as triple homicide or a murder-suicide.

Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch identified the mother as 37-year-old Nancy Johnson, and the two child victims as 2-year-old Jacob Johnson and 5-year-old Mia Johnson. He said it is unclear whether the mother committed suicide or was, herself, a victim. But he said she died in a different manner from the children.

The incident occurred between noon and 12:30 p.m. on Evergreen Court off of Snow Road North.

Burch declined to elaborate on the cause of death but said the children were not shot.

“It was more horrific than that,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

The sheriff appeared to choke up when speaking with reporters outside the home.

“It’s two babies,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got.”

Semmes Police Chief Todd Freind said the scene inside the house was difficult to take – even for a veteran law enforcement officer.

“It’s definitely not a typical homicide scene,” he said. “It is more brutal than normal, than what we normally see. So yeah, it definitely will test your character when you say something like this.”

Burch said the children’s father called police to report finding the bodies. The sheriff said the man is not a suspect at this point, but he added that the investigation had just begun.

Brittany Wendling, a neighbor who lives down the street, said she did not know the Johnson family well or even know their names. She said the family had lived there about six months and added that she only had spoken briefly to Nancy Johnson. She said she had seen police at the house several times.

“It’s very shocking,” she said. “It’s very sad that something happened like that. It is not – it doesn’t feel like it’s the place for that. This feels off level.”

Friend said his officers had answered six to eight domestic calls at the house in the last few months and that the two at various times called the police in each other.

Court records indicate that Johnson and her husband were going through a bitter divorce.

A judge in Utah just last month granted her request for a protection-from-abuse order against the husband.

The order included a warning to the husband: “This is a court order. No one except the court can change it. You can tell your side when you go to court. If you do not obey this order, you can be arrested, fined, and face other charges.”

A day after the Utah judge granted the protective order, the husband filed for a divorce in Mobile County. A domestic relations judge on Tuesday awarded joint custody of the children to the parents, but he ordered that the Alabama Department of Human Resources be granted “protective supervision” of them.

Judge Walter Honeycutt ordered the children alternate weeks with their mother and father beginning Oct. 1.

Honeycutt ordered Johnson’s husband to retrieve a camper trailer from the state of Washington to be used by one parent when the other was living in the house with the children. Burch said that camper was in the back yard when deputies arrived on Thursday.

Updated at 5:56 p.m. with significantly more details about the investigation.