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Memorial growing outside of Highlands Baptist Church

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Updated: 6/24/2013 12:25 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The mother of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle tells Action News that her daughter's murder has been an emotional nightmare.

Rayne Perrywinkle stopped by a roadside memorial for her daugher Saturday night.  Flowers, teddy bears and notes of encouragement line the sidewalk in front of Highlands Baptist Church on Broward Avenue. The church is near the wooded lot where the girl's body was found Saturday morning.

[Special coverage: Remembering Cherish]

"Thank you to everyone for all your thoughts and prayers," she told the dozen strangers who were gathered when she arrived. "My little girl, I just don't know why, why?"

Perrywinkle was very emotional, and Action News respected her wishes not to go on camera, but she approached our reporters to share more about what happened Friday night.

Rayne Perrywinkle tells Action News that Donald Smith approached her inside the Dollar General on Edgewood Avenue, after he overheard her telling her daughter that she couldn't afford a dress the girl was asking for.

"He saw me putting things back because I couldn't afford them, and he offered to help me pay for some other items with a Walmart gift card that his wife had. We waited in that parking lot for a long time for her to come to the store, but then he said she [his wife] wanted him to meet her at the Walmart."

Perrywinkle told Action News she thought Smith was "creepy and annoying," but eventually seemed genuine in his offer to help.

"Part of me wanted to believe this was a blessing for my children, and that's what I kept telling myself, but when we got in the car I felt very tense and was sitting straight up."

Perrywinkle says she felt uneasy as soon as she got into Smith's van.

Perrywinkle says Smith continued to follow her every move inside the Walmart and insisted his wife was on her way.  As they waited for his "wife" to arrive, he yelled "from across the way" and said he was going to McDonald's for a burger.

"He asked if I wanted anything and I heard Cherish say 'cheeseburger.' I thought she stayed near me. I didn't realize she went with him. I didn't let her go with him like people think. He was creepy, so I wouldn't have let her go, I just didn't realize she was gone."

Director Mike Williams of the JSO's Investigations and Homeland Security Division said Saturday that the amount of time between Cherish's disappearance and the time her mother called 911 for help was "not long."

The roadside memorial honoring Cherish will likely grow in size Sunday when a vigil is hosted by The Justice Coalition is held. The time has not yet been confirmed.

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