CLEARWATER — The custody of a 7-year-old girl remains uncertain five days after her father was accused of brutally killing her grandmother at their Clearwater home.
The girl's mother, Tracey Lohoski, 43, said Friday she is fighting for custody of her daughter. She traveled to Florida from her home in Maryland this week and said she plans to stay in Florida until she is reunited with the girl.
"I will be here as long as it takes," she said through tears during a news conference. "I miss my daughter. She needs me and I need her."
On Monday afternoon, Matthew Lohoski, Tracey's ex-husband, killed his 59-year-old mother, Deborah, in the backyard of her home at 1709 El Trinidad Drive E while the child played inside, authorities said.
According to Clearwater police, Lohoski tried to choke his mother with his hands and zip ties, cut her throat with a box cutter knife, then finally ended her life by hitting her head several times with a sledgehammer.
Then Lohoski dropped his daughter off at a friend's house and drove to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He was taken to Clearwater police headquarters, where detectives interviewed him and arrested him on a first-degree murder charge. He remained at the Pinellas County jail Friday without bail.
His ex-wife declined to discuss Lohoski's arrest, but said she had thought her daughter was in good hands with him and Deborah.
"She was a wonderful grandmother," Lohoski said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families said Thursday the girl is in the care of a "non-relative caregiver" in Pinellas County, whom Tracey said is a family friend.
Since her arrival in Florida this week, Tracey said she has not been allowed to contact her daughter.
"Due to the intensity of the case and the things that are going on, they have to do their job, but I will be seeing her very soon," she said. "She is okay."
Tracey and Matthew Lohoski married in 2006, the same year their daughter was born. In 2010, they divorced and the girl's father was granted full custody. According to court records, Tracey Lohoski had 30 days to leave their house after the divorce.
"As a mother, I had not worked, did not have a job, had no money," she said. "I had no choice but to return to my home state. At that particular time, I thought it was best for my child to stay here with her grandma and her father."
Since the divorce, Tracey said she has traveled to Florida to see her daughter every couple of months and has spoken with her on the phone every night. She last saw the girl at Christmas.
According to DCF, the agency had contact with Tracey regarding her daughter several years ago, but Tracey said Friday she had "no idea what they're referring to." DCF would not release details.
If granted custody, Tracey said she plans to move back to Smithsburg, Md., with her daughter, where they will live with her 13-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter.
"I want my daughter with me right now," she said. "But I understand this is a process."
Contact Laura C. Morel at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.