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St. Pete City Council awards Eckerd College for its role in finding Phoebe Jonchuck’s tiny body

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council awarded the Eckerd College Search and Rescue team during its meeting Thursday for its involvement in recovering the body of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck.

The little girl was tragically thrown from the Dick Misener Bridge of the Sunshine Skyway early in the morning of January 8. Her father stopped at the top of the bridge and threw her over before an officer could approach his car for a traffic stop.

The St. Pete Police Department immediately contacted Eckerd’s search and rescue team asking for help.

“This was at 1 in the morning and we needed a way to get this little girl back,” said St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway. “I’m telling you it was windy, the weather was bad, but they came out right away.”

The liberal arts school’s search and rescue team has been helping with missions since the ’70s. The 52 student volunteers on the team are unpaid and they don’t receive college credit for their service.

The Jonchuck story ripped the community in the days following. Many remain frustrated that the girl’s father and killer remains unpunished due to his psychiatric state.

That didn’t stop the community from recognizing the small bit of light the team helped bring to the case.

“It might have been days and weeks of looking,” Council member Wengay Newton said, noting that had it not been for the students’ help, the girl’s family may not have been able to give her a prompt, proper burial.

About half of the team was at the meeting to accept the city’s certificate of appreciation.

“We are very fortunate as a community to have Eckerd College in St Petersburg – in South St. Petersburg,” Mayor Rick Kriseman told them.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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