More than 100 mourners gathered in Tampa on Wednesday morning for the memorial service of Phoebe Jonchuck, the 5-year-old girl who was dropped from a bridge last week.
Instead of wearing funeral black, mourners wore bright colors – a nod to the girl’s love of vibrant hues. Many of them carried multicolored bouquets.
But despite the vivid colors, it was a sad funeral.
Friends and family embraced each other and sobbed. Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, wore a brightly-colored sundress. She wept as she entered the church.
In addition to the tears, there was palpable anger toward Phoebe’s father, John Jonchuck, who was arrested last week for throwing the girl off the 62-foot-tall bridge. At one point, a man shouted angrily during the service, apparently directing his ire at John Jonchuck.
“There needs to be a lot of forgiveness here today,” said Pastor Brent Byerman at Lake Magdeline United Methodist Church, “not only for the person who took Phoebe’s life, but also for ourselves.”
Phoebe’s teacher at Cleveland Elementary School school addressed the crowd, remembering the girl who loved attending school. The teacher said that Phoebe’s classmates blow kisses to heaven, and talk about her being in “cloud school.”
After the funeral, Phoebe’s paternal grandmother – John Jonchuck’s mother – addressed reporters. She was holding Phoebe’s beloved baby doll, Lucy.
“She loved rainbows and butterflies, puppies and cats,” said Michele Jonchuck. “She was happy and always wanted to be a dancer. She loved arts and crafts. There aren’t enough words to describe how this child brought so much happiness to people.”
When asked about her son, who is being held without bond, Michele Jonchuck expressed confusion over his actions from last week.
“The child loved her daddy,” she said. “And her daddy was never mean to her. He adored her. [Why he did it] is a question that maybe one day will be answered, or it never will.”
“Obviously, there was something that snapped,” she continued. “I have to forgive him, because I’ll never go to heaven if I don’t forgive him. I’m not happy with him. Everybody has to forgive each other’s trespasses. I never imagined that this would happen.
Turning her attention back to her granddaughter, Michele Jonchuck stressed that she was a happy child. “Phoebe did have a good life,” she said. “She’s an angel up there, and she’ll never leave us.”