TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa police have spent Friday trying to answer the question, ‘why?’
Why would a Tampa woman drown her own child the Hillsborough River?
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan describing it as “Tragic, chaotic, and downright unbelievable.”
Investigators have been speaking with friends, relatives -- anyone who knows 26-year-old Kayla Denson.
“We are going to have to figure out what her mindset was that took her and put her in a place where she would leave her four-year-old to drown in the Hillsborough River,” said Dugan.
Detectives, also laying out a timeline, say about a half an hour earlier, Denson had stolen a Nissan Altima from a nearby car lot.
The owner, Abdul Jordan, was injured -- but not badly -- as he tried to stop her.
“I feel sorry because we tried, you know, we cannot stop her, you know? Maybe if we stopped her we wouldn’t have had that,” said Jordan.
“I still can’t believe it,” said one of Denson’s neighbors at her Tampa apartment complex.
From what they could see, the 26-year old was a loving mother to 4-year-old Je'Hyrah Daniels.
“To me, everything looked fine,” said a woman who lived in the same building. “She never gave a bad vibe of a bad mother.”
Still, the Hillsborough County sheriff’s confirmed Friday that in June, their child protection division opened an investigation into Denson. It was based on a report of “maltreatment, abuse or neglect.”
It found no issues of maltreatment, abuse nor neglect and closed the case July 31.
A statement reads, in part: "In light of this incident, we conducted an additional review of the case and concur with the original findings. ... Our hearts hurt for the loss of Je'Hyrah Daniels. These types of matters are without a doubt some of the most emotionally tolling types of cases law enforcement encounters."
The state Department of Children and Families released a report on an investigation into Daniels.
DCF Secretary Mike Carroll issued a statement, saying, "I am horrified and disgusted that a mother would do this to an innocent child. DCF will work closely with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office child protective investigative unit to hold Je’Hyrah’s mother fully accountable for her actions under the law. I have ordered a comprehensive review of the prior investigation conducted by HCSO for inadequate supervision involving Je’Hyrah which closed with no indicators."
“What happens behind closed doors I don’t know,” said one of Denson’s neighbors who had heard about the investigation.
Dugan says he sympathizes with frustrated witnesses who apparently were unable to save little Je’Hyrah Daniels because the water in the Hillsborough River is too dark.
He also spoke about first responders who were still rattled by such a senseless tragedy, including the TPD scuba diver who pulled the little girl’s body from the river.
“I walked up to the diver and I said to him how old you think she was?” said Dugan, “And he looked at me and he said she’s the same age as my child. So, you can imagine what everybody was going through.”
Denson is now charged with first-degree felony murder.
A judge, on Friday, ordered that she be held without bond. Denson’s next scheduled court appearance is a pre-trial hearing Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tampa police are releasing new details about what happened in the minutes leading up to the drowning Thursday, but they’re still trying to answer the big question -- why?
The chief says he feels for witnesses who were frustrated because they weren’t able to jump into the river after the girl. The water, he said, is very dark in that area.
Dugan says also he feels for the first responders in this case, especially the scuba diver who pulled little Je’Hyrah Daniels’ lifeless body from the water.
"And I walked up to the diver and I said to him, 'How old you think she was?' And he looked at me and he said, 'She’s the same age as my child,'" Dugan said. "So, you can imagine what everybody was going through.
"When you are a police officer or firefighter, first responder and you have that reference point with the victim, I think it tends to affect all of us."
Investigators are still talking with friends, neighbors and relatives, trying to figure out whether Denson was distraught -- and figure out her state of mind.
When asked if she was under the influence of anything, Dugan said: "That we don’t know."
Timeline of case from Tampa police
3:09 p.m. - Shakayla Denson allegedly steals 2007 Nissan Altima from a car lot at 5604 N 40th St.
Witnesses say they observed her forcefully pushing a child into the backseat of the car. One witness attempted to intervene and was slightly struck by the car. Fortunately, that person was not injured.
4:00 p.m. - A witness said they saw Shakayla Denson exiting the Nissan Altima near the intersection of N Rome Avenue and W Aileen Street.
Witnesses observed her forcefully remove a child from the backseat, dragging the child by the arm, headed toward the Hillsborough River. Witnesses reported that the child - later identified as Denson's 4-year-old daughter, Je'Hyrah Daniels - was screaming. At one time both the child and the mother were screaming.
Witnesses say Denson grabbed Je'Hyrah with both arms and pulled her close to her chest as the mother waded deeper into the water.
The water was near the top of the Denson's shoulders when police say she released Je'Hyrah into the water. Shakayla Denson then reportedly turned around and headed back to the shore.
4:16 p.m. - Shakayla Denson walks southbound along Rome. She is detained by TPD officers near 2301 N Oregon Avenue. TPD officers search the river. Dive team arrives and begins their search.
4:30 p.m. - TPD dive team locates the unconscious child. Je'Hyrah is delivered to Tampa Fire Rescue and rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital.
4:49 p.m. - The victim - 4-year-old Je'Hyrah Daniels - is declared deceased.
5:50 p.m. - Witnesses positively identify Shakayla Denson as the woman who dragged the child into the Hillsborough River.
10:30 p.m. - Shakayla Denson is charged with First Degree Felony Murder, Aggravated Child Abuse, Grand Theft Auto.
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