Mark Lunsford continues battle 10 years after his daughter’s death

February 26th, 2015 by Staff

Lunsford is battling cancer.

(WTSP) SPRING HILL, Fla. – It was 10 years ago today when the family of a bright, energetic 9-year-old girl frantically reported her missing from her grandparents’ home in Homosassa. Jessica Lunsford’s loved ones were never informed that one of their neighbors was a sexual offender.

The picture of Jessica smiling and wearing a light pink hat captivated the Bay area and the nation for weeks after her disappearance. But her father says he has other memories too.

“The games we would play,” recalls Mark Lunsford. “The laughter. She was a daddy’s girl.”

On February 23rd, 2005 Mark says he remembers getting a hug and a kiss from his daughter. She had stepped out of the shower wearing a green towel and was getting ready to go to bed. It was the last time he’d ever see her alive.

Mark was a single father who lived with his parents along with the 3rd grader they all lovingly called Jessie.

The horrible way that Jessie was murdered is something her father doesn’t dwell on. He says it’s too painful.

She had been snatched from her bed during the night by John Couey, a neighbor and a registered sex offender who had slipped through the cracks. Jessie’s family knew nothing about him or his past.

After Jessie’s disappearance, detectives twice visited the home Couey was staying in with his half sister. It was within sight of Jessie’s home. Investigators turned up nothing, but would later learn that Jessie was there and likely alive for days until Couey killed her.

Investigators say he panicked when he heard that dogs would be used in the search for her. They say Couey instructed Jessie that he’d take her home if she’d just step into a trash bag. Couey then put a second trash bag around her , placed her in a hole, and shoveled dirt on top of her, burying her alive. Her lifeless body was found nearly a month later. Her hands were bound with speaker wire and she was clutching a dolphin. She had been raped.

Lunsford says, “There’s always going to be strength in anger.”

He says he channeled his anger into action, and pushed lawmakers to create laws that would empower communities to protect our children. Lunsford adds, “It’s been a real busy 10 years… 47 states now have Jessie’s law. Hawaii, New York and Illinois are the last.”

He says he’s proud of what the law does, “Mandatory sentencing. No early outs. You do your 25 [and] we’re gonna track you.”

The father is almost unrecognizable these days. Chemotherapy used to treat his Lymphoma has stolen his trademark long hair and goatee, but it hasn’t stolen his spirit.

He still lays asphalt for a living, and says his doctors think he’s crazy for not missing a day of work.

He also still works as a child advocate. He helps grieving families cope with the loss of a child.

Most recently, he says he spoke with the man set to marry Phoebe Jonchuck’s mother. Phoebe is the 5-year-old girl who was tossed 60 feet over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge earlier this year.

“It’s your choice: you can think about all the good things,” says Lunsford. “Or you can think about what happened to them and that they’re gone.”

5 Responses

  1. Sara M.

    Why Isn’t Mark Lunsford’s son, Joshua, not on the Florida State’s Sex Offender Registry?

  2. Good

    I hope Lunsford dies soon.

  3. JR

    How much child porn does Mark currently posses?

  4. Ben Z.

    So sad that he got away with not being charged with child port, his son avoided being listed as a sexual offender. Where’s the advocate for his current children who are verbally and physically abused TODAY? God bless little Jessica, but who’s watching his children today?

  5. Jim Colter

    Have you ever noticed how people who love to blame victims all have a local rep as a punk ? I have, I have also slapped a few and invited them to react any way they felt was the right thing to do.. They will cry lawsuit QUICK but when everyone they mention the incident to laughs about it , they crawl back in their little hole or keyboard. LOL Nobody could pay any of you to face anyone with your cowardly little rants.

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