US girl ‘alive’ when dad threw her in river

AP, ST PETERSBURG, Florida

Sun, Jan 11, 2015 - Page 7

Five-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck was likely alive when her father dropped her over a bridge railing, sending her into the waters of Florida’s Tampa Bay, police said on Friday.

Detectives said they had “preliminary evidence” indicating that Phoebe was alive as she fell, but would not say what it was.

Police previously said that an officer who saw John Jonchuck drop the girl from the bridge on Thursday may have heard her scream.

Phoebe Jonchuck’s body was found in the water a couple of hours later. An autopsy is pending.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for John Jonchuck’s car and found a pink booster seat, cellphone and religious items they would not describe.

Hours before the child’s death, John Jonchuck had called his attorney “God” and asked her to translate a Bible, police said.

The comments prompted the attorney, Genevieve Torres, to call police and a child welfare abuse hotline, but when police interviewed him in person, he appeared fine — Phoebe was smiling and holding his hand.

He said he did not want to hurt himself or his little girl and had “new clarity in his life.”

John Jonchuck has been charged with murder. It is not clear if he has an attorney. At a court hearing on Thursday, a judge asked him if he wanted an attorney and he said: “I want to leave it in the hands of God.”

Police are trying to piece together a timeline of his week. Detectives think he might have spoken to members of a Tampa-area church in the days before dropping his daughter over the bridge.

Officials said they are especially interested in anyone who might have seen John Jonchuck, his daughter or his PT Cruiser vehicle on Wednesday.

Phoebe’s death led state’s child welfare agency to revamp how it handles calls to its abuse line, requiring officials to respond within four hours if a caregiver is believed to be experiencing a psychotic episode.

Torres called the Florida Department of Children and Families hotline at 2:45pm on Wednesday, saying that the man was “depressed and delusional.”

She also called Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies.

Torres told the 911 dispatcher she had asked her client if he wanted her to file paperwork in his custody case at a meeting on Wednesday in Tampa.

“It’s not going to matter anymore,” she recalled him saying.

“That really scared me,” Torres can be heard telling the dispatcher, her voice trembling.

He was “out of his mind,” she added.

A child welfare services team is reviewing the agency’s involvement with the family, which included at least three prior investigations.

Both John Jonchuck and the child’s mother had arrest records and there have been allegations of drug abuse in their home.