Eckerd College team that found Phoebe Jonchuck to be recognized by St. Petersburg Police

Published March 12, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Police will present a certificate of appreciation today to the volunteer search and rescue team from Eckerd College that found 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck's lifeless body less than an hour after authorities said her father dropped her into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

About 50 student volunteers make up the team, said Eckerd College spokesman Tom Scherberger. Four were on Rescue 6 early on the morning of Jan. 8 when, police said, John Jonchuck Jr. dropped his daughter 62 feet off the Dick Misener Bridge to the water below.

The Eckerd students set out almost immediately on an unusually cold night, hoping for a rescue. But they soon discovered Phoebe's body east of the bridge, pulled by strong currents and rough waters.

"It was a really difficult situation for our students and our staff," Scherberger said. "They set out to rescue that little girl and having it turn out the way it did has been very difficult for them. So it really does help them to think that the police department wants to honor them for the work they did."

St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said the idea for the certificate came straight from the patrol officers who were on duty that night.

"This volunteer group went out on a particularly difficult mission and tried to assist the police department, and this was an especially difficult case," she said.

Scherberger said about a dozen students will attend the ceremony in the City Council chambers.