September 9-15 is Suicide Prevention Week. I wrote the following poem to talk about the elephant in the room — the stigma attached to mental illness.
Sunshine Skyway sounds like a happy place. The name brings to my mind warm sunlight against cool skin while lying on my back and staring at clouds back-grounded by clear blue skies. If I close my eyes I can envision myself lying in the grass identifying unique and fun shapes in the clouds. But for five-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, Sunshine Skyway Bridge was a place of horror—making her yet another child victim of a failed system.
Her little body was flung off the bridge located in St. Petersburg, Fl by the one person who should’ve been her protector, 25-year-old John Jonchuck. In the coming days of investigation more details will become known. But one can’t help but wonder why he wasn’t detained after his lawyer(child custody) called and expressed grave concern. According to the lawyer’s 911 recording, Jonchuck told her “Don’t file the paperwork(custody papers),” he told her. “It’s not going to matter anymore.” At that point she tells the 911 operator “He’s out of his mind, and he has a minor child with him driving to the church now,”
Officers arrived at the church and determining that he posed no threat, let him go. Phoebe was dead several hours later. But the failure didn’t stop there. An officer (though off duty) did not pursue the vehicle as –according to the news clip below– “flew past him at a high rate of speed.” Then while stopped, the father preceded to “go around to the other side of the vehicle” and pull the child out.
I’m sure the incident moved somewhat faster than it actually sounds here, but given all of the high-profile shootings that have encapsulated the media lately I can’t help but ask what the officer was thinking by his casual response. For all he knew, this guy (already displaying erratic behavior) could’ve been about to pull a weapon out of his back seat. Yet, he had time to exit his vehicle open a door, pick up a child, and throw her over the bridge.
As of January 12, 2015, the Department of Children and Families have made a change to their policy to respond within 4 hours by meeting with the parent who is experiencing an acute mental episode.
It is safe to say that Mr. Jonchuck’s lawyer made the a call that should not have been taken lightly. The fear and concern she had for the child was clear in her voice and at the very least, the mother should have been contacted. Maybe I’m just frustrated that another child has died a senseless and frightening death.
Phoebe Johnchuck’s funeral service is Wednesday (1/14/15) at Lake Magdalene Methodist Church in Tampa Florida. A little girl who loved school, her friends, and bright colors will no longer dream of sunshine, clear blue skies, and fluffy clouds.
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