Cops Questioned Dad Hours Before He Allegedly Threw 5-Year-Old Daughter Off a Bridge

John Jonchuck's lawyer told authorities he was acting erratically just hours before allegedly throwing daughter Phoebe off a bridge in Florida

Photo: Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times/Zuma

Just hours before John Jonchuck was arrested for allegedly throwing his daughter off a St. Petersburg bridge, where she fell 62 feet to her death, his strange behavior caused his attorney to call 911.

Jonchuck, 25, was in attorney Genevieve Torres’s office to sign paperwork about a custody dispute. His 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, was with him. During the meeting, he rambled about his attorney being God, and asked her to read from a Swedish-language Bible. He told her that he was heading to a nearby Catholic church. When he finally left, Torres called 911.

“He’s nuts,” Torres told the dispatcher in a 911 tape obtained by PEOPLE. “He’s out of his mind, and he has a minor child with him. He’s driving to a church now, and I should have kept the child.”

“I was supposed to file paperwork for a case,” Torres continued. “He’s like, ‘Well, don’t file the paperwork. It’s not going to matter anymore.’ I should have kept that child.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputies Jessica Hallberg-Calebro and Aaron Rizzo responded to the church. John Jonchuck was meeting with the priest; Phoebe was in the church’s day care.

According to a police report obtained by PEOPLE, Jonchuck was lucid while talking to the police. “Jonchuck knew the time of day and date,” one officer wrote in a police report. “He was aware of his surroundings and was answering all my questions without difficulty or confusion.”

Deputy Hallberg-Calebro also saw 5-year-old Phoebe. “She was smiling and appeared healthy, properly clothed and happy,” she wrote. “Jonchuck advised that he is not currently on any medication and sees a doctor regularly.”

The priest told the officers that he did not believe Jonchuck was dangerous. The police officers let Jonchuck and Phoebe leave. “Based on my evaluation, I determined Jonchuck was not a threat to himself or others,” the deputy wrote.

A History of Violence

This was not Jonchuck’s first interaction with police. According to police and court records obtained by PEOPLE, Jonchuck had been arrested at least five times before.

In 2010, he was charged with domestic violence, but the charges were dropped. He was arrested for domestic violence twice in 2013: once for allegedly battering his daughter’s mother, and another time for allegedly battering his own mother. Both of those charges were dropped. He also was charged with forging signatures on checks, but the alleged victim – Phoebe’s mother – declined to prosecute.

In 2014, Jonchuck was arrested after getting into a physical altercation with a male acquaintance, but both parties declined to press charges.

Child Protective Services

In addition to his criminal record, Child Protective Services has an open case involving the family, and there are two previous reports involving CPS that have been closed.

Now, the heads of the Department of Children and Families are conducting an internal review to figure out what, exactly, they could have done to prevent 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,” Mike Carroll, DCF Secretary, says in a statement. “The multidisciplinary review team will be on the ground in Tampa tomorrow … 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.”

Leave It In ‘The Hands of God’

Jonchuck faces first degree-murder charges. During his first court appearance, judge Michael Andrews asked Jonchuck if he wanted a court-appointed lawyer.

“No. I want to leave it in the hands of God,” Jonchuck replied.

“I’m pretty sure God is not going to be representing you in this case,” Judge Andrews responded. “You’re going to be standing trial. Would you like someone standing next to you as you’re standing trial?”

“Yes,” replied Jonchuck. “Someone that is pure and good, not evil. I don’t want a court-appointed lawyer. I want to leave it in the hands of God.”

The judge ordered Jonchuck to reappear in court on Monday, where he will be asked again if he would like a court-appointed defender.

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