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Old 03-30-2005, 09:19 PM   #1
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5 year old calls 911, reports parents' shootings

I nearly cried listening to the actual 911 call...


Staff Writer

Last update: March 29, 2005

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- "I think they're dead."

With those words, 5-year-old Tia Hernlen described finding the bleeding bodies of her mother and father to a Sheriff's Office dispatcher early Monday morning.

Thirty-one year old Julie Hernlen was dead in the bedroom of the family's Ellison Avenue home. Her 29-year-old husband, Aeneas, was critically wounded. Both had been shot multiple times.

Volusia County sheriff's investigators believe the couple were the victims of David Edward Johnson, 33, whom they had accused of stalking them because he believed they had turned him in for drug activity.

Deputies believe he broke into the Hernlen home, which is just outside city limits, shortly before 3 a.m. and shot the couple as their daughter slept in the next room. Johnson then returned to his Swan Avenue residence and killed himself, deputies said.

The couple had filed complaints against Johnson, accusing him of stalking them because he believed they had turned him in to law enforcement for drug activity, public records show. Investigators said Monday the Hernlens had given them no information on Johnson.

But it was a little girl's taped 911 call at 2:58 a.m., after being awakened by the gunshots, that told the personal story of the tragedy. While her name is omitted from the recordings of the 911 tape released Monday afternoon, deputies at the scene confirmed her name.

"I think there is a bullet on the floor," the youngster told sheriff's 911 dispatcher Donna Choufani. "There is blood coming out of my dad's mouth and he fell off the bed."

"Where is your mommy?" Choufani asked in a soothing voice.

"I don't know. I think they're dead," Tia replied. "I said 'mommy and daddy' and they didn't even answer. I didn't see a gun, but I am scared."

The youngster told Choufani she never saw her parents' assailant.

Choufani used her voice to keep the youngster calm and on the line until a deputy arrived about four minutes later.

Sheriff Ben Johnson described the recorded conversation as "chilling" during a news conference at the scene Monday afternoon.

"The little girl did a magnificent job," he said. "And the dispatcher did a wonderful job."

Investigators believe Johnson forced his way into the back of the Hernlens' small, single-story yellow house in the 100 block of Ellison Avenue and walked into the couple's bedroom. There, he shot them with an undisclosed type of gun then fled back to his home.

Several hours after finding the couple, deputies went to Johnson's Swan Avenue home. Investigators have not disclosed what linked the double shooting to Johnson. When they entered his home, they found him dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said.

Aeneas Hernlen was airlifted to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, where he remained in critical condition Monday night.

David Johnson was no stranger to the Hernlen family, deputies said.

The unemployed New Smyrna Beach resident was accused in court documents of stalking the couple and threatening their family in December and January. Julie Hernlen told deputies Johnson had driven by the house several times and harassed them because he thought she and her husband had informed on him to law enforcement about drug activity at the Swan Avenue residence, Davidson said.

Johnson had been arrested in November on charges of cultivation of marijuana, possession of steroids and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was scheduled for trial May 9, according to court records. The trial on the stalking charge was set for May 2.

Neighbors along both quiet streets, which lie only a few miles apart, were taken aback by the triple shooting.

Agnus McKellar, who was staying with his daughter in the house across from Johnson's, said he didn't know what to think when officers with guns drawn descended on Swan Avenue shortly after 10 a.m.

"I wondered what in the world was going on," he said. "I had no idea until a cop came out and told my daughter that he (Johnson) had died."

Coni McKellar said David Johnson was neighborly, and she never noticed any problems at the house.

"He seemed like a nice guy," she said.

Most of the Hernlens' neighbors, many of whom did not wish to be identified, were also shocked. "This is a very quiet neighborhood," Lake Drive resident Pete Hornby said. "Nothing happens here."

Sheriff Johnson said Tia Hernlen is with family members.



This is the transcript of the Monday morning 911 call 5-year-old Tia Hernlen made after she found her mother dead or dying and father badly hurt in the bedroom of their New Smyrna Beach home:

OPERATOR: 911, what is your emergency?

CHILD:Um, hello.

OPERATOR: Hello. Is everything OK?

CHILD: My mommy and daddy


CHILD: I think there is a bullet on the floor.

OPERATOR: And the what?

CHILD: And there is blood, coming out of my dad's mouth and he fell off the bed.

OPERATOR: He did? Where's mommy at?

CHILD: She is, I don't know, I think they're dead.

OPERATOR: What do you mean sweetheart?

CHILD: I don't know.

OPERATOR: OK, your daddy's on the floor. How old are you?

CHILD: I'm 5 years old and I have a dog in a house.

OPERATOR: OK baby, OK. Let me get someone right over to you. Did you, did you go in your mommy and daddy's room?

CHILD: Uh-huh, and there is blood.

OPERATOR: All over the place?

CHILD: Not all over. There's blood on the plant and blood on the floor.

OPERATOR: Oh my goodness and you have your little doggie with you?

CHILD: And three cats.

OPERATOR: And three cats too?

CHILD: Three cats and one dog.

OPERATOR: OK, are you the the only one there besides mommy and daddy?

CHILD: Well I said "Mommy" and "Daddy" and they didn't even answer.

OPERATOR: OK, OK, what I want you to do honey. I want you to stay on the phone with me. What is your name?

CHILD: (tells operator her name)

OPERATOR: Oh that is a very pretty name.

CHILD: (blocked out)

OPERATOR: Oh, I'm so sorry, that is a beautiful name. What is your doggie's name?

CHILD: Lizzah

OPERATOR: OK, and what made you wake up tonight?

CHILD: There was, I think I heard a gunshot.

OPERATOR: You heard a gun?

CHILD: Yes, and I see a bullet lying on the floor. I think it's a bullet.


CHILD: Mmm-hmm

OPERATOR: Who has a gun in the house?

CHILD: I don't see a gun but I'm scared.

OPERATOR: Oh sweetheart! . . . I will not let anything happen to you.

CHILD: Can you send a deputy down here?

OPERATOR: I promise I will . . . and you're only 5 years old?

CHILD: Mmm-hmm

OPERATOR: You are so smart for 5 years old. Wow! . . . are you off from school this week?

CHILD: Um, no, I go to school next year.

OPERATOR: You do? Oh my gosh, you're not even in kindergarten yet?

CHILD: Nope.

OPERATOR: Oh, what's your doggie's name?

CHILD: Lizzah

OPERATOR: Lizzah, what kind of doggie is she? CHILD: She's a lab.

OPERATOR: Oh my God, I love those. Those are so beautiful. Is she a black lab or is she a yellow lab?

CHILD: A black lab.

OPERATOR: Oh, you are so smart.

CHILD: With, um, brown eyes.

OPERATOR: Oh my goodness, how old is she?

CHILD: She is like 3 years old, or, 2 years old, I don't really know.

OPERATOR: Wow! . . . You can remember for a really long time.


OPERATOR: Oh my goodness. Was there anybody else in the house tonight besides you and mommy and daddy tonight? Like an uncle or anything?

CHILD: No, there's no robber in the house.

OPERATOR: OK, well I didn't think there would be a robber sweetheart. Did you have anybody staying over the night with you guys tonight?

CHILD: Nnn- nnn

OPERATOR: OK. So and the doors are all locked? And everything like that . . . Where are you in the house?

CHILD: Well, I was in my room sleeping till I heard a noise shot and it woke me up.

OPERATOR: Oh my goodness. Uh, what part of the house are you in at now?

CHILD: I'm in the one, it's yellow, all yellow house, of green, green with it, a little bit of green, and a pink door.

OPERATOR: Oh my goodness, that sounds really cool. Did you pick out the pink door?

CHILD: Um, no, my mom picked out the door.

OPERATOR: Look, I bet you that is beautiful. Does mommy and daddy have a car in the driveway?

CHILD: Mmm-hmm, two cars.

OPERATOR: Two cars? What kind of cars do they have?

CHILD: Umm, my mom has a Toyota

OPERATOR: What color is that Toyota?


OPERATOR: Is it dark, or grey, or silver?

CHILD: It's um red.

OPERATOR: Red? OK, what kind of car does daddy have?

CHILD: He has a Jeep. It's black and . . .

OPERATOR: OK, listen to me (name). Is your phone the type that you can take with you and walk around?

CHILD: Um, this . . .

OPERATOR: There should be an officer at your front door. I need for you to take your phone with you and walk over to the door and open it for me, OK? And I will stay on the phone with you, OK?

CHILD: But um . . .

OPERATOR: I will not hang up.

CHILD: I'm naked.

OPERATOR: Oh, well do you want to grab a towel or something? I don't think the officer's going to care baby. We just want to make sure that mommy and daddy are OK, all right?

CHILD: Mmm-hmm.

OPERATOR: Grab a blanket or something. Stay on the phone with me, stay on the phone, alright?


OPERATOR: My name is Donna, by the way. You are doing a wonderful job (blocked), wonderful job.

CHILD: And I know what to do for (incoherent)

OPERATOR: You did great!

CHILD: I knew

OPERATOR: You were wonderful, absolutely wonderful. You should be very proud of yourself.

CHILD: I'm to the door, I'm unlocking it.

OPERATOR: OK, you let me know when the officer talks to you. OK you go ahead (blocked), talk to the officer.

OFFICER: (background) You talking to the dispatcher? OK, tell her I'm here now and you can hang up.

OPERATOR: Bye sweetheart.

CHILD: Um, he's here.

OPERATOR: OK sweetheart, you be good, OK? Bye-bye.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:25 PM   #2
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I'm in tears just reading the transcript
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:27 PM   #3
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OMG, that is horrendous. Thank God she got a good dispatcher on the line that handled it correctly.

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Old 03-30-2005, 09:34 PM   #4
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I saw this in the Orlando Sentinel news letter yesterday, so sad.

In todays news letter they said that her father has died also.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:36 PM   #5
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Bless this child. This is a heartbreaking story
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:36 PM   #6
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That makes my tummy hurt. I could not even read it all. Poor little girl.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:40 PM   #7
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That is the saddest thing I have heard by far in a loong time. I can't believe she was that smart to call 911. I would've gone into shock, I think. When I was 7 1/2 my mom was pregnant and needed to go to the hospital. I'm glad she handled the 911 call, because I would've froze! (or dialed 991, haha)

...Is the little girl staying with a grandparent or someone ?

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Old 03-30-2005, 09:41 PM   #8
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That poor little thing. I hope her Daddy recovers.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:41 PM   #9
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wow..im all teary eyed just reading it!
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:43 PM   #10
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:45 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by tevagirl
That poor little thing. I hope her Daddy recovers.

In todays Orlando Sentinel news letter, they said that her father has died also.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:47 PM   #12
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:48 PM   #13
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In my nomination for the 2005 "Understatement of the Year", here's part of Fox News' story on the tragedy:
The couple apparently feared the suspect and tried to get a court-ordered injunction to keep him away from their family. However, a judge denied the request on account that there was not enough evidence to support the stalking charge.

The judge, in denying the case, said "no violence was alleged and it was hard to prove stalking with the allegations" presented, according to court papers.

"Looking back on it, I would have liked to have done it differently," Circuit Judge Richard Graham said.

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Old 03-30-2005, 09:51 PM   #14
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That is just so sad. That little girl is so smart and level headed for being only five years old. This just breaks my heart.
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Old 03-30-2005, 10:40 PM   #15
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Oh how sad. When my friend Pam was murdered several yrs ago, it was her 7 yr old DD who made the 911 call. She was able to give such a good description of her mom car, that the police pulled him over just blocks away from the house. I never read the transcripts, but Pam's Ex husband did, and it was amazing how much info she was able to give the 911 operator. Pam's DS was 5 and he was in total shock. He completely shut down.
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