Mobile County Sheriff: Semmes mother murdered her 2 children before taking her own life
Sheriff says he is probing indications ‘somebody within the system dropped the ball’
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Evidence from a gruesome homicide scene on Evergreen Court in Semmes on Thursday indicates a woman killed her two young children and then committed suicide, authorities said Friday.
Although no one will be prosecuted for the murder of the children, Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch said the investigation is not over. He said he plans to probe indications that somebody in the system “dropped the ball.”
Burch said autopsies revealed that 2-year Jacob Johnson and 5-year-old Mia Johnson both died from drowning. He said the evidence indicates that Nancy Margaret Johnson killed the children and then hanged herself in a closet near the master bedroom. He said the specific motive is unclear.
“I have not recovered any kind of notes outlining what happened,” he said. “We have learned and continue to learn that there was clearly some psychiatric issues with the mother. Again, we’re learning more and more about that as hours go by.”
Burch said Johnson’s estranged husband found the bodies and called police. He said the man has been cleared of any suspicion.
“We were able to corroborate some of the timeline where he said he was and where he’d come from,” the sheriff said. “And he was truthful in those statements. We were able to verify receipts that were located. So, it’s just, you know, it’s just tragic. And, you know, unfortunately – and I hope this stops – there were a lot of social media comments about him being responsible and that he probably did it. Well, he didn’t.”
The sheriff said the day before the killings, Nancy Johnson gave neighbors a purple suitcase with clothes, a small amount of cash and her phone, along with a note indicating that if anything happened to her, her husband would be responsible.
Burch said it is impossible to explain such a thing, although he alluded to court records pointing to psychiatric issues.
“Was she trying to make it, you know, seem that he did something? You know, maybe,” he said. “But also keep in mind, she clearly was mentally unstable. And you know, there again, court documents making reference to her, you know, having some mental issues.”
The couple, married in Washington State in 2016,, had a tumultuous relationship that included allegations of abuse, a protective order and two separate divorce filings.
In a June court filing supporting the husband’s attempt to win custody of his children, his lawyers wrote that a Department of Human Resources caseworker expressed concern for Nancy Johnson’s mental health. The lawyers wrote that the caseworker “further informed Defendant that she does not feel it is safe for the minor children to remain in the care and custody of the Plaintiff.”
Burch said the children should have been removed from the home.
“I don’t want to point fingers or speculate until we get some documents,” she said. “But I think that based on what I’m hearing, you know, it’s highly likely some somebody within the system dropped the ball.”
Russell Sellers, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, told FOX10 News that the agency is cooperating with law enforcement and would have no further comment.
Nancy Johnson filed for divorce in Mobile County Circuit Court in April, citing irreconcilable differences.
“I feel it is impossible for us to develop an attitude whereby we would be able to have feeling and affection for one another,” she wrote. “I am confident that reconciliation is impossible and that we should obtain a divorce and go our separate ways.”
The couple’s lawyers drew up a nine-page agreement later that month settling the divorce. But by June 26 – two weeks after the husband’s lawyers expressed concerns for the children’s safety – the couple had changed their minds. Mobile County Circuit Judge Walter Honeycutt granted their request to dismiss the divorce case.
The reconciliation did not last long, however. Semmes Police Chief Todd Freind said Thursday that his department had responded to six to eight domestic disturbance calls at the Evergreen Court address.
Johnson asked a judge in Utah, where the couple previously lived, for a protection-from-abuse order against her husband. The judge granted that request on Aug. 8. One day later, Johnson’s estranged husband filed for divorce in Mobile County.
Honeycutt on Tuesday ordered the couple to share custody, each taking weekly turns with the kids under DHR “protective supervision.” He ordered the estranged husband to retrieve a camper-trailer from Washington State. Beginning Oct. 1, each parent was to take turns living in the house with their children for a week and living in the camper during their off week.
Before that custody arrangement even took effect, however, Johnson and her two children were dead. It was stunning to neighbors on the quiet cul-de-sac.
“It’s very shocking,” said Brittany Wendling. t’s very sad that something happened like that. It’s just not – it doesn’t feel like it’s the place for that. This feels off level.”
Updated at 5:24 p.m. with significantly more information.
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