The lawyer for a man accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge Thursday morning said she had concerns.
Genevieve Torres called 911 Wednesday to say her client, John Jonchuck, was acting strange. Deputies went out to talk with Jonchuck but said there was no evidence the child was in danger.
The 25-year-old father was at Torres' office in Lutz on a child paternity case. His daughter Phoebe was with him. The 5 year old quietly colored a picture and played.
"I called 911 immediately when he left the office and told them where he was going so someone could meet him there," she said.
In a 911 call, she told the operator, "He’s out of his mind and he has a minor child with him driving to a church now and I should’ve kept the child.”
According to police reports, Jonchuck asked his attorney to translate a Swedish bible during the meeting and even said he was “God.” He said he was headed to St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa to talk with a member of the clergy.
“It was enough for me to say this is not usual behavior. This is, I use the word delusional. He was delusional and he had a 5-year-old girl with him. And I just thought you know—somebody had to take care of that little girl," she said.
Father Bill Swengros says Jonchuck showed up at the church with Phoebe.
"He seemed just like a typical dad, a 25-year-old dad with his daughter," said Father Bill.
He said he had his childcare workers watch Phoebe so he could talk to her dad privately.
Father Bill said she seemed well-adjusted.
"What impressed me about her actually was that she seemed very intelligent and very confident in herself."
He said Johnchuck himself seemed "off," and that Johnchuck claimed he was having a spiritual experience and wanted to be baptized immediately.
"His mind was racing in a lot of different directions but there wasn't anything that would suggest he was a danger to himself or his daughter," he said.
Deputies found Jonchuck at church, but according to their report he never threatened to harm his daughter or himself.
Jonchuck told deputies he was there because God spoke to him and gave him new clarity in his life. That wasn’t enough for Torres.
“I decided to call child protective services,” she said.
She called the child abuse hotline, where the attorney was also told the behavior did not legally meet criteria to investigate the case as child abuse.
“I just feel that somehow, and I’m not pointing fingers—somehow the system failed Phoebe. That was her name. And…we need to figure this out. It could have been prevented,” she said.
Jonchuck has been arrested several times before and has several domestic violence charges but nothing that would suggest murdering his own daughter.
Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll released the following statement regarding Phoebe's death:
“The horrible nature of this little girl’s murder at the hands of her father is heart wrenching and demands our most immediate and thorough response. The multidisciplinary review team will be on the ground in Tampa tomorrow working with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Child Protection Investigation Division to review all the details of the involvement with this family. We must do everything we can at DCF to prevent any and all harm to precious children like Phoebe."
"After the tragic loss of Phoebe, the department is immediately changing our Hotline criteria to include a trigger for when a caregiver is believed to be experiencing a psychotic episode that would require a CPI visit within four hours and a notification to law enforcement. We have to do more for the children, like Phoebe, who depend on us to protect them."