JACKSON, Tenn. — A Tennessee woman plunged to her death Monday, along with her 21-month-old son, after she jumped from a highway overpass with the boy in her arms, authorities said.
Tonisha Lashay Barker, 26, of Memphis, and her son, Johnathan Jones, were pronounced dead at the scene, just south of Exit 93 on Interstate 40 in Jackson. Fox 17 in Nashville reported that Barker’s death has been classified as a suicide but the baby’s death remains under investigation.
Tom Maples, public information officer for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, said that deputies were called to a nearby Shell gas station just after midnight on the report of a woman who had tried to strike a gas pump with her vehicle.
It was Barker, authorities said.
Callers told 911 dispatchers the woman got out of the car with a small child and walked to the I-40 overpass, at which point she disappeared from view.
“A few minutes later, dispatch received another call from a truck driver stating that a large object fell from the bridge and struck his truck as he was traveling westbound on I-40 at the Exit 93 bridge,” read a statement obtained by People magazine.
Responding deputies found Barker and her son.
Maples said Barker “evidently chose to jump off with the child in her hands,” according to Fox 17.
“It’s heartbreaking to have that situation this morning, especially when someone loses their life,” Madison County Sheriff John Mehr said in a statement to WBBJ in Jackson. “It’s hard on everybody, especially the driver of the vehicle. It’s just a bad situation that we hate to ever receive.”
Investigators have not said what Barker’s motive might have been, but her grandmother told local reporters that she’d become depressed after her job at a COVID-19 testing site ended in December, according to Oxygen.
Barker was a basketball player in high school in Memphis before going on to Tennessee State University, where her LinkedIn profile says she obtained a bachelor of science.
She’d listed her current employer as the Shelby County government, for whom she worked as a medical screener.
Friends mourned Barker on social media. One friend mused about how the pair helped one another through bad relationships.
“I remember when I would stay at your house all night because I didn’t wanna go home,” Tabatha Sahara Johnson wrote on Facebook. “I remember the unannounced visits from us both. I don’t know how we fell out, but right now the memories I have of you are beautiful. R.I.P Tonisha L. Barker.”
A man going by Christopher DeWayne posted an apparent prom photo of himself and Barker, who he said was the 2012 prom queen at Memphis’ Westwood High School.
“Rest in peace, pretty girl. This one HARD,” he wrote. “This hurts like crazy. Forever in our hearts!”
If you or someone you know is in a suicidal crisis or needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline provides free and confidential support 24/7 via phone or chat.