Tia Hernlen was asleep when David Edward Johnson allegedly broke into her family’s home and killed her parents. She woke up after hearing a commotion in the house. Tia called 911 and calmly explained the situation to the dispatcher, giving crucial information about the scene and her whereabouts. Given Tia’s composure and intelligence, the operator couldn’t believe she was a five-year-old.
Tia’s mother, Julie Hernlen, died at the scene; her father, Aeneas Hernlen, died while receiving treatment
Tia Hernlen relayed an ominous message to the dispatcher, Donna Choufani, at the start of their conversation. “I think they’re dead,” she said. “There is blood. Well, I said ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ and they didn’t even answer. I see a bullet lying on the floor. I think it’s a bullet. I don’t see a gun but I’m scared.”
After Tia asked Donna to send a deputy, she replied, “You are so smart for a 5-year-old.” The first responders found Julie dead and Aeneas barely clinging to life. He died the following day while receiving care. The alleged shooter, David Edward Johnson, committed suicide hours after the murders. Johnson held a grudge against the Hernlen as he thought they provided information that led to his arrest on drug charges.
Sheriff Ben Johnson told CBS News: “We don’t know what forced him to snap. He had the feeling that the Hernlens turned him in for an indoor marijuana-grown operation, which was not true. Someone called in a burglary in progress at his home. He was putting the focus of his blame on the Hernlens and he’d made the threat in the past, and carried them out.”
Julie and Aeneas had tried and failed to obtain a restraining order against Johnson
A couple of months before their murders, Julie and Aeneas petitioned for a restraining order against Johnson. They claimed the alleged murderer had issued threats against them and driven in front of their residence. Circuit Judge Richard Graham denied the petition, stating ‘no violence was alleged and it was hard to prove stalking with the allegations.
Sheriff Johnson defended the decision, saying, “The only way to stop them is to keep them in jail. There’s no way possible the judge could have kept him in jail. Very seldom do you find someone this determined to take this action. Don’t know, in a case like this, how you would stop it.”
Judge Graham said, in light of the killings, he wished he had ruled differently. “Looking back on it,” the judge told CBS News, “I would have liked to have done it differently… But you review each case on a case-by-case basis.”
Tia was raised by her extended family in Central Florida; she is in her 20s
Tia Hernlen moved in with her extended family, who accused authorities of failing to protect the Hernlen, in Central Florida. The community helped raise Tia by creating a trust fund for her. She adopted a private life after the death of her parents and changed her name after turning 18.