Phoebe Jonchuck was remembered as a happy, smiling child in the days after her seemingly distraught father threw the 5-year-old off a bridge to her death.
Police have accused John Jonchuck of driving to a bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida, early on Thursday and throwing the girl to her death. Adding to the horror is the fact that friends say the young girl had a strong fear of water.
“She was a very smart little girl who loved princesses and who loved to color. She hated the water and she didn’t know how to swim,” said a choked up Linda Mattos, the owner of a daycare that looked after Phoebe. “That’s what bothered me the most this morning because I knew how much she hated the water. She wouldn’t even take a bath.”
Those close to John Jonchuck said he was acting strange in the hours before the killing, calling his attorney “God” and asking for her to translate a Bible in Swedish. The attorney, Genevieve Torres, was meeting with Jonchuck on a custody case for Phoebe Jonchuck, and was so worried that she relayed John’s statements to police.
Police met with Jonchuck and his daughter when he picked her up from a church day care, but they found she was in good health and good spirits.
“She was smiling and appeared healthy, properly clothed and happy,” according to the documents.
Within 12 hours, John pulled his car over on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, took his daughter from the backseat, and allegedly threw her over the railing into the water 60 feet below. An off-duty police officer saw Jonchuck speed by in his Chrysler PT Cruiser at close to 100 miles an hour, catching up a short time later.
Those close to the Jonchuck family remembered Phoebe as a happy and bright girl.
“The teachers are devastated. We’re all devastated,” said Susan Brill, Phoebe’s principal at Cleveland Elementary School in Tampa. “We are trying to make the day as normal as possible for the little ones.”
But others said there were signs of trouble for Phoebe Jonchuck and her mother. The girl’s father had full custody, as her mother, Michelle Kerr, suffers from multiple sclerosis. The mother and daughter had to seek shelter with a family friend in the last year, and last month John filed an injunction against Kerr but was denied. Friends say he was jealous that Kerr was moving on with her life.