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Tampa Bay has had a child dropped in the water before. Where the Phoebe Jonchuck case stands.

Phoebe Jonchuck died when she was thrown into Tampa Bay in January 2015. [Times file]
Phoebe Jonchuck died when she was thrown into Tampa Bay in January 2015. [Times file]
Published Aug. 3, 2018

Divers pulled a 4-year-old girl's lifeless body from the Hillsborough River on Thursday, police said, not long after her mother dropped her, screaming, into the dark water.

YESTERDAY: Girl, 4, dies after woman dumps her in Hillsborough River

Soon everyone knew her name, Je'Hyrah Daniels, and that of her mother, 26-year-old Shakayla Denson, whose mugshot ricocheted across the region.

The case felt too familiar, calling to mind the story of Phoebe Jonchuck, who police say was thrown by her father into Tampa Bay on a cold January night in 2015.

In Tampa, witnesses told police, Denson hugged her struggling daughter close, wading up to her shoulders before dropping the girl and walking away.

Three years ago, in St. Petersburg, a police officer said he watched John Jonchuck Jr., then 25, cradle his daughter to his chest before tossing her off the side of the Dick Misener Bridge, 62 feet above Tampa Bay. That moment ticked off a legal saga that is still not complete.

Jonchuck's trial is scheduled for Sept. 24. Lawyers are finishing depositions and filing motions. Doctors initially said he was not competent to stand trial, but he was later deemed well enough to proceed after receiving treatment for two years in a state facility.

Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan said Friday it was still too early for investigators to know Denson's mental state when her daughter died.

Jonchuck faces the death penalty. Denson is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and grand theft auto.

Read previous coverage of the Jonchuck case:

ORIGINAL STORY: Police: Girl, 5, dead after father drops her from Sunshine Skyway approach

SPECIAL REPORT: The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

WITNESS: Officer recounts the last moments of Phoebe Jonchuck's life