Thursday, August 28, 2003

Memphis police finally confirm that the body is that of the missing child.

A former neighbor snatched 7-year-old Tyra Knox off a Frayser street as the child played with a scooter, dragged her into a vacant house and suffocated her, according to police.

Tobias Johnson, 23, who formerly lived across the street from Tyra's home at 3567 Mountain Terrace, was charged Wednesday night in her abduction and slaying.

Tyra's mother, Angela Jones, reported the child missing about 4:40 p.m. Saturday.

Memphis police charged Johnson with first-degree murder, first-degree murder in perpetration of an aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder in perpetration of aggravated child abuse. He also is charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated child abuse.

Tyra was riding on the sidewalk in front of 3558 Mountain Terrace Saturday afternoon when she was pulled screaming from the scooter, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday evening by Homicide Sgt. Tim Helldorfer.

Johnson covered Tyra's mouth to prevent her from screaming as he dragged her and the scooter to a rear door, the charges state.

Once inside a rear bedroom, Johnson put his hand over Tyra's mouth and nose until she suffocated, the charges say. Then, according to the charges, Johnson concealed Tyra's body in the attic.

Police discovered the child's body Monday night. On Wednesday, they confirmed the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office had identified the dead child as Tyra and ruled her death a homicide by suffocation.

Johnson was arrested Tuesday night at 4687 Old Raleigh in Millington as a suspect in a rape that occurred two days before Tyra disappeared.

Earlier Tuesday evening he had walked into Saint Francis Hospital because he was suicidal, but walked away about 6 p.m.

When questioned Wednesday, Johnson admitted killing Tyra, according to the charges.

Johnson and other family members had lived previously at 3558 Mountain Terrace where the child's body was found.

Mattie Johnson, a relative who was the house's caretaker, summoned police after becoming suspicious when she went to check Monday.

The scooter that Tyra had been riding was found inside the house. A similar pink bicycle also was taken from the house.

Johnson was in Shelby County Jail Wednesday night awaiting a bond hearing.

The charges were the latest in a string of criminal and civil charges against Johnson, many involving the abuse of females.

In April, his estranged wife sought an order of protection against him, alleging he had fondled her three minor children. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services began an investigation, spokesman Carla Aaron said.

The investigation results were turned over to state prosecutors. The children were allowed to stay in the home of Teresa Harris-Johnson because state investigators were confident she would protect her children and keep Johnson from them, Aaron said. "The mother is very protective," Aaron said.

The rape allegation that led to Johnson's arrest Tuesday is not related to the allegations by his estranged wife.

He was charged in January 2000 with possession of marijuana. Police were called to 3558 Mountain Terrace by the mother of a runaway who said her daughter was being held at that address. Johnson was known to have hidden runaways in a shed behind the home, according to the arrest ticket in that case.

When police arrived, they found Johnson inside in a haze of marijuana, the report said. Two sisters, age 15 and 17, were hiding inside a cabinet. Their mother told police that there had been an order of protection issued two years earlier, prohibiting Johnson from being with the elder daughter.

In July 1999, Johnson's sister called police, saying he had tried to break into her house at 1783 Gowan.

Police arrested Johnson at 3558 Mountain Terrace after another call claimed he was holding an underage female against her will in the shed.


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