In front of a horrified police officer, a man grabbed his 5-year-old daughter out of the car, held her over the side of Tampa Bay Bridge, and dropped her a staggering 62 feet to her death. However, the most disturbing moment came when the father told the judge why he had no choice but to hurl his little girl over the edge.
Just after midnight, a PT Cruiser raced past a Tampa Bay police officer, leaving him no choice but to pursue the speeding car. Officer William Vickers followed the vehicle to Tampa Bay bridge, where the driver, John Jonchuck, abruptly pulled over and stepped out of the car.
Concerned that the situation would turn violent, Vickers drew his firearm and yelled at Jonchuck to raise his hands. Although the man had no visible weapon, he was more dangerous than the officer could ever know.
According to WUSF News, Jonchuck eerily yelled back at the officer, “You have no free will.” He then reached into the back seat of his car and picked up his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe. Jonchuck then held the little girl over the railing of the suspension bridge for a moment before dropping her a staggering 62 feet as Vickers watched in horror.
Vickers raced down a nearby ladder to the dock below the bridge but couldn’t find Phoebe in the dark water. Tragically, a marine rescue boat pulled her tiny body from the freezing bay just a few hours later. Jonchuck was subsequently charged with murder.
At his trial, Jessica Manuele explained that her client didn’t kill his daughter out of anger or malice. In fact, she said that he deeply loved Phoebe and wanted nothing more than to protect her from harm. It was then that Jonchuck’s real reason for sending the little girl to her watery grave was revealed.
The defense told Pinellas County Judge Chris Helinger that Jonchuck dropped Phoebe over the side of the bridge because he believed that she was possessed by the archangel Michael of the Bible. He claims that he thought hurling the child over the edge would cause the angel to save his daughter and leave her body.
“He thought he was protecting his daughter,” Manuele said. “It will never make sense because it’s insanity.”
Jonchuck has reportedly suffered from mental illness for years and has a long history to prove it. His attorney argued that it was delusions of grandeur that led him to think that Phoebe had been overtaken by an angel and that this was the only way to cast out the spirit. He had also apparently poured salt outside her window in a failed effort to keep the supernatural principalities away.
The prosecution refuted this claim and asserted that the murder was premeditated and that Jonchuck had killed his daughter in a “rage.” However, Manuele denied this accusation, saying there was no evidence he acted out of “unbridled anger.”
“It was rage that drove him to it on top of that bridge,” Bolan said. “Did he know what he was doing, and did he know it was wrong? The answer is clearly yes.”
Jonchuck’s divorce attorney testified in the murder trial. Genevieve Torres explained that, just 12 hours before Phoebe’s death, she had called a state child protection hotline to report Jonchuck’s worrying behavior, according to WKRG. She claims that Jonchuck had referred to her as “God” and asked her to translate his stepmother’s century-old Swedish Bible. He had also driven Phoebe to three churches the morning before her death.
“He’s calling the office every five minutes and saying these religious things and saying the child might not be his – it just really concerns me,” Torres told an operator. “It’s all craziness and it doesn’t make any sense and he’s out of his mind.”
Disturbingly, the operator expressed no concern for Phoebe’s safety and chose not to report the call to the authorities. Sadly, this left the little girl in her father’s care for the hours leading up to her horrific death.
Jonchuck was found guilty of first-degree murder, despite his defense team arguing that he was legally insane. Judge Helinger subsequently sentenced him to life in prison after what she referred to as the longest trial of her judicial career. Jonchuck hugged his attorneys before being led out of the courtroom by the bailiffs.
The tragic case exposes the unfortunate and dangerous flaws in both our mental health system and child protection services. There were so many opportunities and signs that were missed, some of which could’ve prevented this little girl’s death. Hopefully, her family can find some relief in knowing that justice was served.