A Florida dad charged with murder says “voices” guided him to drop his 5-year-old daughter off a Tampa Bay bridge 62 feet down to her death in 2015.
New court filings in the case of John Jonchuck, obtained by PEOPLE, say he revealed in interviews with a mental health doctor, “I was hearing voices saying that if me and Phoebe didn’t die, everybody was going to go to hell.”
The body of Phoebe Jonchuck was recovered from Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2015, about an hour after an off-duty police officer heading home said a white PT Cruiser raced past him, driving erratically at about 100 m.p.h. before stopping on the Dick Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg.
The driver of that vehicle then “reached into the back seat and grabbed the girl,” police spokesman Mike Puetz told PEOPLE at the time. “Then he threw her over the railing and into the water.”
The officer says he heard a splash as the child fell into the bay below. He then radioed for help and climbed over the railing himself, hoping to rescue the child but “he couldn’t see her, because the current is extremely strong there,” said Puetz.
Jonchuck has been ruled competent to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder in the case, but remains for now in a state mental hospital until his scheduled March trial date.
His comments describing his mental state at the time of the incident are included in a 126-page deposition filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court, and reflect interviews he gave to psychiatrist Emily Lazarou during evaluations conducted in October 2017 and last May.
Just hours before Phoebe’s death, police had questioned Jonchuck for acting erratically. His attorney — with whom Jonchuck had been meeting in reference to a custody dispute — had called 911 after observing Jonchuck’s behavior.
The Department of Children and Families hotline also had received a call voicing concerns that Jonchuck was unstable. DCF placed a notation about the call in a file for a caseworker to handle at a later date. Twelve hours later, Phoebe was dead.
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During his first interview with detectives after the incident, Jonchuck said, “My name is God and you shall address me as such.” His mother told cops that her son struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He had not been taking his medicine.
He had two Bibles in his vehicle when police caught up to him after he drove off the bridge.
During her evaluation of Jonchuck, the psychiatrist asked him to explain his belief that others might die if he didn’t take action, according to the new court filing. “Because I felt like with that Bible that night I was telling everybody that I was the Creator,” he answered.
He added: “I didn’t want anybody else to get hurt.”
Lazarou said during her own deposition, as reflected in the court filing: “On one level he’s a demon. On one level he’s God. On one level he’s the Pope. … The whole reason he said that he killed Phoebe was because he thought that they both were demons. It’s unfortunate that he only thought she was at the time.”
Jonchuck also told the psychiatrist that he has “bad dreams” about his daughter in which he can’t “get her to wake up.”
He says of himself: “I was a really good father and she loved me so much and I always promised her that I’m not going to let anything happen, and I did.”
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