‘Great tragedy;’ Community reacts to toddler’s death inside hot vehicle in Jacksonville Beach

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — A toddler died in a church parking lot on Tuesday afternoon and Jacksonville Beach Police said heat may have played a role.


Police confirmed that the toddler was left inside a vehicle in the church parking lot. Up to that point, it was a normal preschool day at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Neighbors said they’ve never experienced anything like this here before.

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“My uncle’s been here for 40 years and nothing like this ever,” neighbor Annette Evans said. “We were in shock. All the roads were blocked off. We couldn’t figure out anything.”

Jacksonville Beach Police spokesperson Tonya Tator said they received a call around 2:40 p.m. about an unresponsive toddler in the parking lot of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. When officers arrived on the scene, they found a young girl dead inside a vehicle.

“This is a great tragedy,” Tator said. “It affects everybody, it affects not only the parishioners, but it affects the community, it affects the officers.”

Police said the hot temperatures Tuesday were a factor.

RELATED STORY: Toddler dies due to heat after being left in vehicle at Bethlehem Lutheran Preschool, police report

“As we all know, it is summertime, heat gets extremely unbearable, more for elderly and for youth, so that is something we need to keep in mind,” Tator said.

The Action News Jax First Alert Weather Team said today in Jacksonville Beach, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the temperature was 85 degrees.

“Whether you’re playing outside or you’re traveling in any type of vehicle, you’ve always got to keep that vehicle cool,” Tator said. “And you’ve always, always, always have to be aware of your children and pets.”

As police vehicles blocked off the area around the church, investigators continued to look into whether foul play was involved.

READ: Woman arrested after baby in her care dies after being left in hot car for 5 hours, BCSO says

“Anytime there’s a death investigation, we treat it just like we would a criminal investigation, Tator said. “We don’t know yet. If it’s criminal or accidental.”

“We just can’t believe something like this would happen,” Annette Evans said. “It’s just, it’s a shame.”

Jacksonville Beach Police said no one has been detained at this time but they are interviewing witnesses.

READ: 10-month-old girl dies after being ‘inadvertently’ left in car, Baker County Sheriff’s Office says

Action News Jax’s thoughts and prayers are with the family.

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