Four-year-old Je’Hyrah Daniels was screaming as her mother dragged her toward the Hillsborough River on Thursday afternoon, waded into the water, tossed her in and left her to die, witnesses told police.
Je’Hyrah died at St. Joseph’s Hospital less than an hour later.
Shakayla Denson, 26, was charged with murder, aggravated child abuse and grand theft of a motor vehicle. She was booked into the Hillsborough County jail late Thursday and is being held without bond.
The chaos started at 3:09 p.m. Thursday when Denson stole a gray Nissan Altima from Jordan Auto Repair, 5604 N. 40th Street, according to police.
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“Things just unraveled from there,” Chief of Police Brian Dugan said during a news conference Friday morning. “Witnesses say they observed her forcibly push a child into the backseat of the car. One witness attempted to intervene and was struck by the car as she fled the scene.”
Denson drove the stolen car to the river and parked on Rome Avenue just north of West Aileen Street, where witnesses watched as she forcibly took Je’Hyrah out of the car.
“She started dragging Je’Hyrah by the arm and heads toward the Hillsborough River,” Dugan said. “Witnesses report that the child was screaming and at one time, both the child and the mother were screaming.”
Denson grabbed the girl with both arms, pulled her close to her chest as she waded into the water, continuing until the water was near the top of her shoulders and then let Je’Hyrah go. She then turned around toward the river bank and walked south down Rome Avenue.
By about 4 p.m., Tampa police had received multiple calls reporting that a woman had thrown a child into the river just north of the Columbus Drive Bridge. Officers rushed to the scene, and by 4:16 p.m. Tampa police divers had began searching for Je’Hyrah.
At about 4:30 p.m., a diver pulled the 4-year-old girl out of the river about 75 feet from the bank not far from where her mother tossed her in, police said.
Je’Hyrah was rushed to St. Joseph’s, but was pronounced dead at 4:49 p.m.
Moments later, just after 5 p.m., police found Denson walking in the 2300 block of North Oregon Avenue — less than a mile from the scene — and she was taken into police custody.
When Dugan walked up to the diver who had pulled Je’Hyrah out of the river, he asked how old the officer thought she was.
“He looked at me and said, ‘She’s the same age as my child,’ ” Dugan said.