Dumped and Enraged, Former Husband Suspected of Family's Killing,
By Mark Niesse, The Associated Press
When Melissa Peeler escaped to Oregon from her jealous ex-husband, it
set in motion a chain of events that led to the killings of her
10-month-old daughter, her parents and her sister, and the kidnapping
of her three other children from their northwest Georgia home.
After a police chase, another shooting and a 19-hour national
manhunt, the children were safely returned and the suspect, Jerry
William Jones, was arrested.
The crime spree left behind a devastating trail -- four bodies found
in two mobile homes, a suicide attempt by Jones, the bloodsplattered
children and tearful relatives with unanswered questions.
The tragedy was set in motion when Peeler, 27, traveled west for the
holidays. Her relatives said she took the trip to get away from her
erratic common-law husband, a small-time convicted thief. Peeler and
Jones, 31, met in an Internet chat room six years ago and had three
children together, but never married.
Peeler was visiting a boyfriend in Oregon, trying to start a new life
and gain custody of her children, family members said.
Wednesday afternoon, Peeler received a telephone call in Oregon
threatening members of her family. She called police at home in
Ranger, Ga., asking them to check on her children, who she had left
behind with her parents, said John Bankhead of the Georgia Bureau of
Deputies "went out there, did what you can do in a situation like
that, looked through the window, knocked on the door, and then left,"
Several hours later, the sheriff's office got a more serious call
from Peeler -- she said Jones had told her of the killings, adding
that he would "start killing the kids one by one" if she alerted
Deputies rushed back to the trailers, knocked down the door and
discovered the dead. Peeler's 10-month-old daughter, Harley, had been
strangled. Several gunshots had been fired. Also killed were Peeler's
parents, Tom and Nola Blaylock, and her sister, Georgia Bradley.
By Thursday morning, electronic signs on highways across Georgia lit
up with alerts telling people to look for Jones and the three
children in a red Ford Explorer. Named Levi's Call, the state's
version of the Amber Alert system notifies people statewide about
The news quickly spread to neighboring states and soon national cable
news channels were showing Jones' mug shot and the description of his
No one knew whether the children had been harmed or if they were even
still alive. Jones had made threats before, said David O'Donnell,
"He says all the time, 'He'll kill you, he'll kill me,"' O'Donnell
said. "He's an idiot, just a crazy person."
In the 11 hours that followed, sightings of Ford Explorers were
reported to police from across the Southeast, but none matched the
correct license plate number.
Then, shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, someone traveling north on
Interstate 75 near the Georgia-Tennessee border called 911 and
verified five of the six license plate numbers.
Three state troopers trailed the SUV at a speed of 70 mph, spotted
the children and turned on their blue lights.
But they couldn't run the vehicle off the road -- not yet. One of the
children wasn't wearing a seat belt, said Cpl. James Davenport of the
Georgia State Patrol, one of about 12 officers involved in the
20-mile chase that resulted in Jones' capture.
The vehicle exited shortly after the Tennessee border, slowed down in
traffic, and Trooper Jason Davis drove his cruiser into the
Explorer's right rear bumper, causing it to swerve into a telephone
pole. The children, some covered in blood, stumbled out of the SUV
toward the officers.
"The small one went out and went to Trooper Davis. He went out and
put a jacket around her," Davenport said. "Of course, they were
shaking, but other than that they were fine."
The blood came from Jones, who had aimed his gun upward through his
jaw and shot himself either during or after the crash. He survived
and is in stable condition at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Peeler was granted custody of the children -- 10-year-old Brittney,
4-year-old Brandy and 3-year-old Tammy -- by a judge Friday.
Other family members tried to return to normalcy while coping with
the enormity of their loss. They swept the house and took out the
trash, but they also looked through photo albums and made funeral
"I've cried for three days, I don't think I can cry any more. I sat
down and watched some home videos to help cope," said Kacie Charles,
the 20-year-old granddaughter of the Blaylocks. "It's upsetting and
we're going to miss them. You can't bring them back."
A rift has opened in the family because Peeler is angry with family
members for criticizing Jones and releasing home movies to media,
Most of the family has only briefly talked with Peeler, who is back
in northwest Georgia with her children.
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Meanwhile, Jones will be extradited to Georgia on murder charges when
he's healthy enough, officials said.