A Florida father charged with hurling his 5-year-old daughter from a Tampa Bay bridge just after midnight Thursday had previously been arrested for battery against the girl's mother and sought a domestic violence injunction against her, police revealed. That request was declined last month.
A motive for the heinous act, however, wasn't immediately clear after the suspect — 25-year-old John Jonchuck Jr. — refused to talk after his arrest, St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Jonchuck, who had custody of his daughter, had been sitting in his Chrysler PT Cruiser at the top of the Dick Misener Bridge moments after speeding past a police officer who was headed home, Holloway said. The officer had pursued the driver to the span.
The man got out of his car and the officer drew his weapon. "The suspect started talking, but the officer didn’t understand what he was saying," the chief said. The man then walked over to the passenger's side door and pulled out a child, her face buried in his chest. The suspect tossed the girl over the guard rail, and she plummeted about 60 feet into the cold waters, Holloway said.
It wasn't clear if the girl — Phoebe Jonchuck — was alive at that moment, and investigators are awaiting the results of a medical examiner's report to determine when the kindergartner died. "I don't even know what was going through this guy's mind," Holloway said.
While the officer climbed down one of the bridge's ladders to find the girl, the suspect peeled off. Two officers who were on their way home heard a call come in about the incident and were able to locate Jonchuck across the bridge, Holloway said. He was apprehended after going the wrong way on the interstate, but didn't want to talk.
Meanwhile, search and rescue teams recovered the little girl's body from the water after 1 a.m. ET, after currents carried it about a mile from the scene. Attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead about an hour-and-a-half later, police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez told NBC News.
Jonchuck was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated fleeing and eluding, and aggravated assault with a motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer. A judge denied bond on the murder charge Thursday afternoon, and Jonchuck said he didn't want a court-appointed attorney and would leave his fate "in the hands of God." The judge ordered him back Monday, giving him time to reconsider his decision.
Jonchuck was previously arrested on two separate battery domestic violence charges in 2010 and 2013 against the mother of his daughter, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. In 2013, he was also arrested for battery against his own mother. Two previous reports documented by Child Protective Services involving the Jonchucks have been closed, and there is currently one open case, but that complaint was not against John Jonchuck Jr.
— with David Wyllie