TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Police have charged a woman with first degree murder in connection with the death of a 4-year-old girl who the woman allegedly tossed into the Hillsborough River.

  • Body of girl found submerged about 75 feet off shore
  • Woman in custody; police believe she is the child's mother
  • Girl, 4, died at St. Joe's Hospital

Shakayla Denson, 26, also faces aggravated child abuse and grand theft auto charges. 

Officials said 911 calls started coming in around 4 p.m. from witnesses saying they'd seen a woman wade into the river just north of the Columbus Drive bridge with a child. About halfway across the river, witnesses said she tossed the child into the water and then started wading out.

"You can just imagine the Fire Rescue and the police officers who responded to this scene and, you know, the craziness of the world that we live in at times," said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

Divers eventually found the child — a four-year-old girl — unconscious and submerged in the water about 75 feet off shore. 

The child, later identified as Je'Hyrah Daniels, was rushed to St. Joe's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"Eventually, we just saw the scuba divers out there pulling up with a body," said resident Romano Muniz. "Then everybody going full attack mode to make sure she got in the ambulance and then taken to St. Joe's."

Officers located a woman believed to be the child's mother walking nearby and took her into custody.

"Unfortunately at this point there are more questions than there are answers," Dugan said.

"As the lady came back and came onshore, she tried to walk down our street here, and some other neighbor called the police, called 911, and the police were able to apprehend her before she got far," said resident Victor DiMaio.

Investigators later determined that Denson had stolen a car just prior to when she was spotted by witnesses wading into the river.
As the neighborhood mourns, the "why" of it all remains unclear.
"It's really sad," said resident Vicki Walker. "I don't know the circumstances, I don't know what's happening in their lives, but it's killing me. It's really hard."