Dad's Strange Behavior Unsettled Some Before Child's Killing

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Hours before John Jonchuck Jr. allegedly threw his 5-year-old daughter off a Florida bridge, he called his lawyer "God" and asked her to read from a Bible written in Swedish, according to documents released by the sheriff’s office.

The 11 a.m. Wednesday encounter in Tampa was so disturbing that the attorney, Genevieve Torres, called police to report that Jonchuck was acting strangely and had just left her office — and she warned that he had his daughter with him.

He "started talking to me and saying I was the creator, I was God and then he wanted to read a Bible of his — I said, 'I can’t, it's in Swedish' — he started being really … I mean, he’s nuts," the attorney told a dispatcher, according to audio released by the sheriff’s office Thursday.

"What I’m saying is, he's out of his mind, and he has a minor child with him."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office sent a deputy specially trained to deal with the mentally ill to speak with Jonchuck, who at that point was at St. Paul Catholic Church with his daughter, Phoebe, the sheriff’s office said. Deputies, however, found no reason to detain him.

Phoebe "was smiling and appeared properly clothed and happy," according to the police report. Jonchuck denied he intended to hurt her or himself, and said he had never been diagnosed with a mental illness.

The pastor of the church said Jonchuck’s behavior was odd — he would say "I am the Pope," and then, "I know I am not," but he also told deputies he didn’t think Jonchuck was a threat, the report said.

Jonchuck, 25, allegedly threw Phoebe from the bridge just after midnight Thursday.

The girl fell 60 feet into the cold waters of Tampa Bay and was found dead. Authorities aren’t sure whether the child was alive when she was thrown off the bridge.

Jonchuck was arraigned on first-degree murder and other charges Thursday. When asked by a judge if he wanted an attorney appointed to represent him, Jonchuck declined and would only say, “I want to leave it in the hands of God.”

"I’m pretty sure God is not going to be representing you in this case, and you’re going to be standing trial," Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews replied. He rescheduled the hearing until Monday to see whether Jonchuck would change his mind.

Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesman Det. Larry McKinnon said deputies couldn’t have detained Jonchuck or ordered a mental health evaluation Wednesday.

“Neither him, the pastor, no one could say he was a danger to himself or the girl,” McKinnon said. “Acting a little strange doesn’t allow us to go and involuntarily commit someone.”


— Phil Helsel