By the time Melissa Peeler got the phone call, her infant daughter had been strangled and her parents and sister fatally shot. The man she had left Georgia to escape was on the phone, saying he had her three other girls and would "start killing the kids one by one" if she called police, relatives say.
Peeler, thousands of miles away in Oregon, dialed Ranger, Ga., and asked sheriff's deputies to check on her family.
She had left the four girls - baby Harley, Tammy, 3, Brandy, 4, and Brittney, 10 - with relatives while she visited Oregon to arrange a new life without her jealous former partner, Jerry William Jones, the father of the three youngest girls.
The crime spree that followed left a devastating trail - four bodies in two mobile homes, a suicide attempt by Jones and the abduction of three children, found blood-splattered but alive.
On Monday, the family still struggling with the slayings is holding funeral services for the four victims - Tom and Nola Blaylock, Georgia Bradley and 10-month-old Harley.
Jones, still hospitalized, was arrested on suspicion of murder and is accused of kidnapping the three girls, who were found unharmed Thursday just over the Tennessee line after a 19-hour manhunt and police chase.
The tragedy was apparently set in motion when Peeler, 27, traveled west for the holidays.
Her relatives say she took the trip to get away from Jones, 31, a convicted small-time thief. The two had met in an Internet chat room six years earlier and had three children together but never married.
Peeler was visiting a boyfriend in Oregon, trying to start a new life and gain full custody of the children, when Jones called Wednesday afternoon, family members say.
When he hung up, Peeler dialed authorities in rural Georgia and asked them to check on her children, said John Bankhead of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
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," Bankhead said.
Several hours later, the sheriff's office got another, more desperate call from Peeler - she said Jones had told her of the killings and said he would "start killing the kids one by one" if she alerted authorities, said David O'Donnell, Peeler's brother-in-law.
Deputies rushed back to the trailers and found the bodies of Peeler's parents in one and her sister and infant daughter in the other. Several gunshots had been fired and little Harley had been strangled, authorities said.
"This wasn't quick," Bankhead said. "He clearly took his time."
By Thursday morning, electronic signs on highways across Georgia lit up with alerts, asking travelers to be on the lookout for Jones and the three children in a red Ford Explorer.
Around 7 p.m., a driver on Interstate 75 near the Georgia-Tennessee border spotted the vehicle and called 911.
Three state troopers caught up with the SUV, 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.
Shortly after crossing the Tennessee border, the SUV slowed in traffic, and Trooper Jason Davis drove his cruiser into the Explorer's right rear bumper, causing it to swerve and crash into a telephone pole.
Ten-year-old Brittney got out and ran, authorities said. Inside the SUV, officers saw Jones slump over, then the other children, one splattered with her father's blood, stumbled out.
"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."
Jones had shot himself through the jaw and was in stable condition at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn. He will be extradited to Georgia to face charges when he's healthy enough, officials said.
A judge on Friday granted Peeler custody of her surviving children, who had been taken into state custody after the abduction.
Family members, meanwhile, have tried to return to normalcy while coping with the enormity of their loss and preparing for Monday's funerals.
"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, 20, a granddaughter of the Blaylocks.
A rift has also opened in the family because Peeler is angry with family members for criticizing Jones and releasing home movies to media, Charles said. Most of the family has only briefly talked with Peeler, who has been asked by authorities not to speak to media until Monday.
Associated Press Harry R. Weber in Ellijay, Ga., contributed to this story.
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us