ELLIJAY, Ga. – A jealous ex-husband accused of killing four people and kidnapping three little girls lay in critical condition Friday after shooting himself in the face during a police chase, officials said.
The girls were reunited Friday with their mother, Melissa Peeler.
Her ex-husband, Jerry William Jones (search), is accused of strangling their infant daughter, Harley, and shooting her parents, Tom and Nola Blaylock, and sister Georgia Bradley on Wednesday at their rural northwest Georgia homes.
He then drove off in a stolen SUV with his former stepdaughter, Brittany Phelps, 10, and daughters Brandy Jones, 4, and Tammy Jones, 3, authorities said. The girls were found unharmed when the father was captured Thursday.
Peeler had left her daughters in the care of her mother and sister while she visited her boyfriend in Oregon. She was flown back to Georgia on Friday and the surviving girls were "very happy to see her," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation (search) spokesman John Bankhead.
Peeler was questioned at the sheriff's office for several hours Friday before her children were returned to her. They had been in temporary custody of state child welfare officials. Peeler left with the children Friday afternoon, said Georgia Department of Family and Children Services spokesman Jed Nitzberg.
"I cried all night," the girls' aunt, Kathy O'Donnell, told The Associated Press at her home in Ellijay. "I don't think it's sunk in yet."
Authorities said Jones, 31, has a criminal history that includes convictions for burglary and auto theft.
A regional manhunt ended late Thursday at the Tennessee line, with Jones critically wounding himself by firing a bullet into his jaw as police closed in. The oldest girl ran from the car and the younger ones were pulled out, one of them covered in Jones' blood, authorities said.
"I don't think his injuries are life-threatening but I think they are fairly severe," East Ridge, Tenn., police Lt. Tim Mullinax said.
Calling from Oregon on Wednesday afternoon, Peeler had asked sheriff's deputies to check on her children, but they didn't discover anything amiss and had no justification to break into the house, Bankhead said. It was not immediately clear what had raised her concern then, he said.
Then Jones called Peeler later Wednesday and told her of the killings, adding that he would "start killing the kids one by one" if she alerted authorities. She called the sheriff's department back, and deputies broke into the homes and found the bodies.
Bankhead said the crime scenes indicated that the killer was methodical: "This wasn't quick. He clearly took his time."
An Amber Alert wasn't issued until Thursday morning because police didn't immediately figure out what vehicle the suspect was driving, Bankhead said.
O'Donnell said there were early signs something was wrong with Jones when he met her sister in an Internet chat room about five years ago.
"I though he was nice, well-mannered. ... I felt sorry for him," she said Friday. "But it didn't take long after that that he started going crazy."
Grieving for her parents, sister and infant niece, O'Donnell said she wants Jones to survive the gunshot.
"I want to see him in the courtroom," she said. "I want him to have to live with this every day."
"They are beautiful little girls," O'Donnell said. "Brittany, the oldest one, is very smart. I'm sure she did whatever she could to take care of her sisters. She always does."