TAMPA — The police officer who knocked on Chris Jones’ door came bearing news about his wife that didn’t make sense.
It was Sunday night, and Jones had spoken to his wife Tiffany Jones the previous afternoon. She wasn’t doing well, but she was safe at a mental health treatment center in Tampa.
“She had checked herself in because she was going through a hard time and knew it, and she wanted help,” Jones said.
But Chris Jones later learned that at some point after their conversation, the 33-year-old mother of three left the treatment center. About 3:30 a.m. Sunday, a surveillance camera at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC on North Howard Avenue captured her scaling the fences that surround the complex’s aquatic center. A few hours later, two lifeguards opening the 25-yard pool discovered her lifeless body underneath the pool cover.
As the door of his Largo home, Chris Jones thought about how he could deliver the officer’s news to the couple’s three sons — ages 13, 10, and 7.
“She definitely loved her children and wanted to do anything she could to get herself on track so she could be a mother to them,” Jones said.
Tampa police say it appears Tiffany Jones accidentally drowned. Though she struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse issues, Chris Jones said he and her family don’t believe she intended to end her own life.
Friends and family described Jones, whose maiden name was Knapp, as a kind and generous artist who loved to sing and dance. She grew up in Seminole, a big sister to two brothers.
“She had such a heart of gold, just a people-pleaser who put everyone in front of her,” said Jennifer Rohrs, a close friend of Tiffany’s since they were pre-teens living in the same neighborhood. “The imprint she left on people is something that should be talked about. She wanted to be alive and wanted to continue to be a mother and pursue her dreams.”
Tiffany and Chris met at Park Street Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. He thought she was beautiful, funny and easy to talk to. They married in 2005.
Tiffany’s mental health issues began to emerge after the birth of their first son and took a turn for the worse after 2010, when the couple’s insurance changed and they could no longer afford Tiffany’s medication, Chris Jones said. He is a pool service technician, and Tiffany was mostly a stay-at-home mom who occasionally held some lower-paying jobs.
Her drug use and untreated conditions led to several arrests over the years for mostly minor offenses such as drug possession, battery and disorderly conduct, records show.
Chris Jones said his wife wasn’t an addict, but used drugs and alcohol to deal with the symptoms of her mental health issues. He declined to talk about her specific diagnoses.
“Even through her struggles, there were periods in our lives when she was on proper medication and she was amazing,” Jones said.
Eventually, child protective services intervened and forbade Tiffany Jones from staying at home with the boys, a step the couple believed was in the best interest of the kids, Chris Jones said.
But even after the couple agreed to begin divorce proceedings, Tiffany did her best to stay involved with the boys’ upbringing. She celebrated this past Christmas with them at the house and last saw them during a visit last month.
In one of their last conversations, Rohrs encouraged her friend to focus on her passion, phrasing the message in a way that haunts her now.
“I told her, ‘You’re an artist, you need an outlet. Not having an outlet will drown you,'” Rhors recalled.
Early last week, Tiffany checked herself into the Tampa treatment center. She was focused on getting better, and she wanted to stay away from people, places and things that tempted her, Chris Jones said. A day or two later, she learned that a spot opened up in a long-term treatment center in Tennessee that she and Chris had selected for her.
That’s why Chris Jones is puzzled now, still unsure about why she left the Tampa treatment center. He was still working Thursday to find out more and declined to identify the center, but said it was within walking distance of the Glazer JCC.
Tiffany had been to the Glazer JCC before, and Chris Jones thinks she was drawn to the center that morning.
“My true feeling is she saw the cleanest, safest place in that area and an opportunity to relax for a little bit after not knowing where to go when she left that place,” Jones said.
Jones said learned from investigators that Tiffany had taken off some of her clothing and placed it to the side of the pool. Police were still waiting Thursday for toxicology results.
Jones visited the pool Sunday with one of Tiffany’s brothers. After surveying the setup, Jones suspects Tiffany got into an uncovered area of the pool to lounge, not to swim, but then dozed off and found herself under the cover, disoriented and unable to lift it off the surface or find her way out. It’s happened to him on the job before and he almost didn’t make it out.
What exactly happened to Tiffany Jones may never be known. There are no cameras trained on the pool, said Heidi Shimberg, executive director of Tampa’s JCCs. Shimberg said the center will consider bolstering security at the club to keep out trespassers.
Jones tries to comfort his sons by assuring them their mother isn’t suffering anymore. She’s not with them here, but she is at peace.
Jones is still trying to accept that, too.
“We were always going to best friends, so I’m just at a loss.”
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.