On Friday, investigators confirmed a grim detail in what was already a sad and horrific case: A 5-year-old girl was still alive when her father tossed her off of a bridge and into the Tampa Bay, 62 feet below, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Now officials want to speak to members of the public, along with clergy, to help reconstruct the last hours of Phoebe Jonchuck’s life.
Phoebe was thrown off the Dick Misener Bridge after St. Petersburg police officer William Vickers stopped her father’s car early Thursday. Her father, John Nicholas Jonchuck, was driving about 100 mph, according to police.
Jonchuck stopped in response to the flashing police lights. But the confrontation escalated rapidly as he exited his car, appeared to move toward the officer and then removed Phoebe from her car seat.
The officer then watched Jonchuck throw his own daughter into the bay. He thought he heard her scream but couldn’t be sure, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said at a news conference.
The officer tried to spot the child in the water, and Jonchuck drove away. He was eventually taken into custody by officers on the other side of the bridge. Searchers found Phoebe’s body a mile from the bridge.
The father faces a first-degree murder charge, along with charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a law enforcement officer, and aggravated fleeing and eluding police.
Jonchuck had custody of Phoebe and recently tried to file a domestic violence claim against her mother.
He hired Genevieve Torres recently to represent him in a paternity suit. Torres called 911 on Wednesday morning with several concerns about Jonchuck’s behavior, especially given that he had Phoebe with him.
“He’s out of his mind, and he has a minor child with him driving to a church now,” she told a 911 operator. She added that Jonchuck repeatedly called her God and said he needed to go to church to get baptized.
Torres also said Jonchuck told her not to bother filing paperwork for his case, because “it doesn’t matter anymore.” According to Torres, Jonchuck showed up to the law offices in his pajamas.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that Jonchuck then headed to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, where he met with pastor Bill Swengros.
According to a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office report, the pastor told police that the father didn’t say anything indicating that he might be a danger to himself or others. Officers then concluded that Jonchuck wasn’t a threat. The report notes that Phoebe “was smiling and appeared properly clothed and happy.”
The next time police saw Jonchuck was on the bridge.
In court on Thursday, Jonchuck declined legal representation, saying he wanted “to leave it in the hands of God.”
According to NBC News, Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews replied: “I’m pretty sure God is not going to be representing you in this case, and you’re going to be standing trial.”
The judge called another hearing for Monday, in case Jonchuck changes his mind.