Shakayla Denson was identified as the mother accused of tossing her 4-year-old daughter into the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Florida.
Tragically, the small child has died, authorities said. Although initial reports had said the mother allegedly threw the 4-year-old girl off a bridge, authorities now say the mother waded into the river before tossing the child into it. On December 11, 2018, Denson was found incompetent to stand trial in the death. According to The Tampa Bay Times, doctors reports indicated “she may be mentally ill or intellectually disabled.”
According to a GoFundMe page, the child was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. The mother used the name Kayla Denson on GoFundMe and on social media. A witness told The Tampa Bay Times the mother was carrying a Bible and was wearing a bra and seaweed or grass-covered leggings.
“There are much more questions than there are answers,” said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan in a news conference. “It’s a completely tragic event. It’s a crazy world we live in.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Accuse Denson of Tossing the Struggling & Screaming Child, Je-Hyrah Daniels, Into the Water
Witnesses are providing horrific accounts of what transpired. According to The Tampa Bay Times, witnesses said the little girl struggled and screamed. The newspaper reported that witnesses allege the mother, Shakayla Denson, “dragged the screaming girl by the arm toward the river and then into the water. Then Denson began to scream, too, as she picked up the girl, pulled her close to her chest and walked farther from the riverbank into deeper water.”
The mother was allegedly up to the top of her shoulders in the river when she let the child go, the newspaper reported. A witness tried to prevent Denson from leaving but was allegedly struck by the car she was driving.
Tampa Police revealed they had apprehended Denson in a news release issued on August 2, 2018, the day of the child’s death. Police wrote that they “have charged a woman in the murder of her daughter after the woman waded into the Hillsborough River and tossed the child into the water.”
Authorities gave the mother’s name as Shakayla Denson, 26, and said she was accused of first-degree felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and grand theft auto.
The victim’s name was given as Je-Hyrah Daniels, 4. The incident occurred on Thursday August 2, 2018 at 4 p.m. at the Hillsborough River near N. Rome Avenue and N. Aileen Street, police said.
Police said they received a report around 4 p.m. that “a woman had thrown a child into the Hillsborough River just north of the Columbus Drive bridge.”
“It’s the craziest world that we live in at times,” the police chief said. “The child…is unfortunately now dead. The mom is in custody. Right now we are sorting through and trying to get some answers…we’re still trying to piece this whole thing together.”
2. Witnesses Say Shakayla Denson Was Acting Oddly Before the Incident, Counting Out Loud & Running Down the Street
The Tampa Police Department’s dive team went to the scene and tried to find and save the child but, sadly, it was too late.
At 4:30 p.m., “a dive team member discovered an unconscious child submerged about 75 feet off shore near N. Rome Avenue and W. Aileen St.,” the police news release says.
The child was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced deceased 19 minutes later.
Witnesses said the mother was acting bizarrely even before allegedly throwing the girl into the river.
Eddie Camacho, who owns a business nearby, told The Tampa Bay Times that he “saw a woman run up Fremont Avenue wearing only a bra and black pants and no shoes.” Osama Jamil, an employee, told the newspaper that the woman was behaving oddly in a back storage area of the business.
She was “washing her face. She was counting out loud, 19, 20, 21. I went back there to see if she was all right. She didn’t look right,” he alleged, saying she then ran away.
A witness, Vicki Walker, provided ABC Action News with the above photo that she says is of the mother in the river.
Walker told the television station she saw the woman in the water but didn’t see the child and added, “Which was very odd, I’ve lived here for years, I’ve never seen anybody in the river.”
3. The Mother Recently Sought Donations Because the Child Was on the Autism Spectrum
A GoFundMe page created in the name of Kayla Denson was titled, “Life with je’hyrah.”
It is riddled with a spelling and grammar errors and reads: “My daughter was recently diagnose with autism spectrum, my goal is to start saving for therapy equipment, and also for je’hyrah’s future. I’ve also gathered interest in reaching out to others living with autism, and would enjoy providing strategies and resources I’ve learn to help them get threw the day. Thanks and i appreciate it.”
The mother set a goal of $1,500 when the page was established 9 months ago but received no donations.
On Facebook, Kayla Denson referred to herself as “just a child of god, a growing women finding her way😇.”
The child’s father had posted the child’s ultrasound photo on his Facebook page four years ago and expressed his joy about looming fatherhood, writing, “JA’HYRAH NYAISA DANIELS……on her way yall.” He also commented, “Hell yea im so happy ion kno wat to do.”
4. Denson Worked for a Health Care Company & Studied to Be a Registered Nurse, Her Facebook Page Says
According to one of her two Facebook pages, Shakayla Denson wrote that she worked at WellCare Health Plans and was a “former Enrollment Specialist at The Results Companies – Blue Bell.” WellCare is a company that “provides managed care services, focusing on Medicaid and Medicare,” according to its Facebook page.
She also wrote that she studied as a “Registered Nurse at Hillsborough Community College” and lives in Tampa, Florida and was from Tampa, Florida.
Denson also has a criminal history with arrests for theft and criminal traffic cases, such as for driving with a suspended license, according to Florida court records. The theft case dated to 2016 and was a second-degree misdemeanor.
5. Police Accuse Denson of Stealing a Car Before Tossing the Child in the River
Police say they “quickly located the woman suspected of tossing the child in the water. She was walking nearby and was taken into custody.”
They say an investigation determined Denson had allegedly “just stolen a car – a grey Nissan Altima” from a local auto repair shop, parked the car, and then “waded into the Hillsborough River with her child. Roughly halfway across the river, she tossed the child and began wading out.”