Florida mother faces premeditated murder charge in death of toddler forced to drink bleach, officials say

Joanna Zephir, 36, remains jailed without bond in Osceola County

Joanne Zephir, 36. (Osceola County Sheriff's Office)

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – An Osceola County mother accused of forcing her children, 3 and 8, to drink bleach before trying to kill herself outside a Poinciana church earlier this month is now facing a premeditated murder charge, according to the sheriff’s office.

Joanna Zephir, 36, was arrested on an outstanding warrant on May 8 after deputies found her and two children in a car outside Poinciana Pentecostal Church of God. The sheriff’s office said the toddler was unconscious in the vehicle. The woman and children were taken to the hospital, where the 3-year-old died, officials said.

[TRENDING: Independent insurance agents expect premiums to drop if Florida lawmakers do these 2 things | ‘Ghosts, maybe:’ Man tries to cover for woman as lights turn off in Florida home, sheriff says | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

The sheriff’s office said Zephir was previously charged with attempted murder and aggravated child abuse, but the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the 3-year-old’s cause of death was compression of the neck. An arrest warrant was obtained Monday for the woman on a premeditated murder charge.

Deputies said Zephir forced both children to drink bleach from a makeshift glass, in addition to choking her toddler.

“The suspect said the reason for doing this to her children is because (someone) must have put a voodoo spell on her, making her harm her children,” Sheriff Marcos Lopez said during a news conference.

Zephir is being held on no bond at the Osceola County jail.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.