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'A Kiss to Heaven': Florida Girl Thrown From Bridge Mourned at Funeral

Phoebe Jonchuck, 5, was killed Thursday when her father threw her from a bridge over Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg police said. A motive wasn't given.
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TAMPA — A message of forgiveness washed over Wednesday's funeral for Phoebe Jonchuck, the 5-year-old girl fatally thrown from a Tampa Bay bridge.

Police allege Phoebe's own father committed the heartless act last week, while mourners at Lake Magdelene United Methodist Church were still coming to grips with the fact that the wavy-haired girl who loved playing princess was no longer alive.

In a fit of anger, one man who had to be escorted out of the church verbally threatened dad John Jonchuck Jr., who did not attend the funeral and remains jailed on murder charges. Pastor Brent Byerman asked the 150 mourners to search for mercy for Phoebe's father and look within themselves. "May God's forgiveness abound in your heart," said Byerman, wearing a sash with handprints of a small child.

Phoebe's tiny casket was covered in pink tulle and flowers, and a smiling baby doll and stuffed animal were tucked beside her body. Others who spoke remembered a grinning toddler who loved bright colors. In her honor, mourners, including Phoebe's mom, Michelle Kerr, wore colorful attire instead of black.

"Every time I see a rainbow, I will think of you," said Phoebe's grandmother, Michelle Jonchuck, who called the kindergartner "my angel princess."

A local funeral home agreed to cover the costs of the burial. Investigators, meanwhile, haven't given a motive for why Jonchuck, 25, would allegedly throw his daughter 60 feet to her death just after midnight on Jan. 8. Kerr has previously said that she and Jonchuck, who had custody of the girl, had a rocky past relationship, but were recently getting along.

A teacher of Phoebe's at Cleveland Elementary School in Tampa chose instead to remember the girl's lively spirit, and told loved ones to send her a special message: "When we hear Phoebe's name ... blow her a kiss to Heaven."



— Lisa Lampkin and Erik Ortiz