Tonight on 48 Hours, Jessi Toronjo shares the emotional story of the search for the killer of her mother, stepfather and two sisters who were murdered in their Indiana home while Toronjo was at a sleepover.
The episode, titled “Live to Tell: Murder on Prom Night,” tells the story of how Toronjo, who was formerly known as Jessica Pelley, was able to cope with her terrible past and how she finally found answers 17 years later when her stepbrother was convicted of the crime.
Authorities believe that Jeff Pelley killed his family after an argument over the prom, and the case continues to evolve in courts even in 2020.
Jessi Toronjo Released a Book About Her Experience in 2019
On April 29, 2019, Toronjo released a book titled I Am Jessica: A Survivor’s Powerful Story of Healing and Hope. The book’s description highlights Toronjo’s trauma. The book was written by her cousin Jamie Collins.
“A shocking 1989 quadruple family murder and the little girl left behind to tell the story,” she writes. “As a child, I was known as ‘Jessica Pelley.’ When I was nine, I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house for the weekend. While I was away, my entire family was murdered.”
She said she spent the next 30 years fighting, crawling and clawing her way through the darkness.
“This wasn’t just a national news headline, a cold case, or a true crime show,” the description reads. “It was my family. And my life. I was the broken little girl left behind to tell this story. I am now ‘Jessi,’ in the pages of this unapologetic memoir, set free.”
She Changed Her Name to Jessi To Get Away From Her Sadness & Loneliness
Toronjo told 48 Hours that she changed her name and hair because she wanted to get away from being Jessica.
“I no longer wanted that name, ’cause she was a very sad, lonely, angry little girl,” she said. “And I just didn’t want that anymore.”
After her family was murdered, Toronjo moved to Michigan to live with her grandfather. She said that she believed that her grandparents wanted her to forget about what happened and move on with her life.
“It’s like they wanted me to be in this bubble to protect me, but it wasn’t really protecting me,” she said. “It was isolating me and hurting me.”
At one point in 2009, after her stepbrother’s appeal seemed to be successful, Toronjo was taken to the hospital after taking “a bottle of pills” and trying to kill herself, she told 48 Hours. She admitted herself to the hospital to get some help.
“I’ve learned that I do have DID, which is dissociative identity disorder, and I am part Jessica and part Jessi. So, when I pushed Jessica down inside me, way down, and didn’t want to feel sad, lonely, I think I lost a lot of the memories I had in doing that,” she explained. “And now that I’m trying to get them back, you know, it’s too difficult because I’m just now letting Jessica come back.”
She Is Married & Has Two Children
Toronjo is now married to her husband, Tyson Toronjo. He accompanied her on her book tour around Michigan and Indiana when her book released and spoke with WNDU.
“Maybe you finally found out why you weren’t at the house that night,” he said. “You shared their story and if it helps one person, it was worth doing it.”
Toronjo said her husband and her cousin, Jamie Collins, were helpful to her in telling her story, saying she couldn’t have done it without them.
“It just touches my heart that people still think about me and my family even 30 years later and they’re still here for me even though I didn’t realize that,” Toronjo said at a book signing. “So, it’s pretty amazing today.”
When she first met her husband, it wasn’t love at first sight for her, though, it was for Tyson, she said.
“When I first met Tyson, it was love at first sight for him,” she said. “Me, it was not. I was with someone else. So, when we reconnected a couple of years later… we just started hanging out. And ever since then we’ve been together.”
They have two children together and live in Midland, Michigan where Toronjo works with young children.
The Indiana University McKinney Wrongful Conviction Clinic is representing Jeff Pelley and has filed a motion for post-conviction relief. The case is still working its way through the courts, though Pelley was found guilty on four counts of murder and sentenced to 160 years in prison in 2006.