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  1. Long Reads

The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

TAMPA — On the night Phoebe's dad scooped her from her bed, the moon was high outside her window. The house was quiet. He carried her out the door, into the dark.

It was blustery and cold, especially for Florida. He didn't zip her into a jacket or wrap her in a blanket. All the 5-year-old had on were shorts and her green cat T-shirt.

Her dad was tall and thick, with wild hair, wearing a hoodie and plaid pajama bottoms. He eased Phoebe into the back of his PT Cruiser and strapped her into her pink booster seat.

Down the highway they raced, crossing Tampa Bay, reaching 80, 90, 100 mph.

In St. Petersburg, a police car pulled behind and followed, lights off. At the crest of the span leading to the Sunshine Skyway bridge, the PT Cruiser stopped, and Phoebe's dad got out.

Get back in the car!" the cop yelled. "Let me see your hands!"

Phoebe's dad walked between the cars and shouted at the officer, "You have no free will!"

Then he went around to her door, opened it and bent inside. He lifted her out and carried her to the edge of the bridge.

Salt spray stung her skin. The wind whipped her bare legs. Her cheek rested on his sweatshirt as he cradled her against his chest.

Phoebe's dad held her out over the guardrail, six stories above the black waves.

And let go.

Read the special report

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