The frantic manhunt for a jealous ex-husband who allegedly killed three former in-laws and his infant daughter before fleeing with three girls ended near the Tennessee line when the suspect shot himself in the face during a police chase.
The girls — his former stepdaughter and two of his daughters — were in the vehicle with him, one was splattered with his blood, but they were unharmed following the pursuit late Thursday, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead.
The suspect, Jerry William Jones, 31, was hospitalized in critical condition and under armed guard, but “he does not have a life-threatening condition,” Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said Friday.
Friday morning, the girls, 3, 4 and 10, were briefly reunited with their mother, Melissa Peeler, who was flown back to Georgia by the FBI after being stranded for two days in Oregon by an ice storm.
The girls were “very happy to see her,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead. He said Peeler was being questioned at the sheriff’s office and had not seen other relatives.
“They are beautiful little girls,” said the girls’ aunt, Kathy O’Donnell. “Brittany, the oldest one, is very smart. I’m sure she did whatever she could to take care of her sisters. She always does.”
O’Donnell, whose parents, sister and infant niece were killed, said she wants Jones to survive the gunshot.
“I want to see him in the courtroom,” she said. “I want him to have to live with this everyday. I would want to know why he did this and what my mother did so bad that he had to put her through the hell he did. And my 10-month-old niece. Why would he do that to her?”
Jones, who has a criminal history that includes convictions for burglary and auto theft, is accused of shooting to death his ex-wife’s parents, Tom and Nola Blaylock, and her sister Georgia Bradley, and strangling his infant daughter on Wednesday, then driving off with his two older daughters and his 10-year-old former stepdaughter in a stolen sport utility vehicle.
Authorities said the motive appeared to be jealousy.
Jones had called Peeler, late Wednesday and told her of the killings, said David O’Donnell, his former brother-in-law. He told her he would “start killing the kids one by one” if she alerted authorities, he said.
Peeler, who had left the children with her parents and sister before leaving for Oregon to visit her boyfriend over the Christmas holidays, notified police, David O’Donnell said.
After a public alert was issued, police in Whitfield County got a tip that Jones’ vehicle had been spotted headed north on Interstate 75 toward Tennessee, about 50 miles north of where the slayings occurred.
Trooper rammed car
Keenan said deputies spotted the car and saw the children, but Jones refused to pull over. He drove a short way off the interstate when a state trooper bumped the back of the car, forcing it to spin and crash into a telephone pole.
The 10-year-old got out and ran, and officers saw Jones slump in the front seat, Keenan said. They pulled the other children out, one of them covered in Jones’ blood, he said.
The girls, Brandy Jones, 4, and Tammy Jones, 3, and Brittany Phelps, 10, were released from a Chattanooga hospital late Thursday.
Peeler tried to fly home immediately but her flight was delayed by an ice storm. Friday morning, she was flown back to Georgia aboard an FBI plane, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said.
Bankhead said investigators would compare the weapon found with Jones to determine if it was used in Wednesday’s shootings.
David and Kathy O’Donnell both said Jones was constantly threatening the family with violence and that Peeler had been trying to get away from him.
Officials say Peeler and Jones were never legally married but had a common-law marriage.
Jones’ mother and stepfather were killed in the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, and David O’Donnell said Jones got a substantial settlement.
“He blew the money almost as fast as he got it, mostly on drugs,” he said.