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Sex offender charged with murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle

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Updated: 6/24/2013 12:23 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A sex offender who police say took a mother and her children to Walmart is now charged with the little girl's murder.

Police found the body of Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, near a church along Broward Road.

The little girl was abducted from a Walmart on Lem Turner around 11 p.m. on Friday.

Special coverage: Remembering Cherish]

Police arrested a suspect in her abduction, 56-year-old Donald Smith.  Authorities pulled over his van along SB I-95 near the I-10 split, just after 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Police wouldn't say whether Smith led police to her body.

Director Mike Williams said the girl's mother met Smith at a Dollar General store earlier that night. Smith promised to take them to Walmart to buy clothes.

While shopping, police said Smith offered to buy some food but instead of going to the McDonald's, Smith left the store with Cherish. The two took off in his van.

Police said a deputy working a traffic crash along I-95 spotted Smith's white van drive by. She wrote down the license plate number.

Authorities responded to the scene. Police closed I-95 and shut down all the exits.

They pulled over Smith's van on I-95 near the I-10 split.  Police say he complied to the traffic stop.  Charish was not in the van.

[Related story: Highway takedown of Amber Alert murder suspect caught on camera]

A short time later, police received a tip about a suspicious van driving around the 2100 block of  Broward Road.

K-9 units searched the woods and found her body.

The sad turn of developments hit JSO hard. "Pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to who you meet," said Director Williams.

JSO spokesman Shannon Hartley said, "It's hard. It's difficult. They are not just police officers. They're parents, brothers, sisters. It's hard."

"Hug your children closely right now, and know where they're at.  Pay attention to them and keep them close," said JSO spokesman Shannon Hartley, who fought to hold back tears.  "We're gonna find him and have him held accountable for that," he added.

Minutes after the discovery, police arrived at Smith's home in San Jose on Segovia Avenue where he lived with his mother. A few hours later, a woman, believed to be his mother, was led away by police.

"This has been an extremely dynamic situation. Obviously we have the unfortunate answer that we didn't want to have, so a portion of our investigation is complete," said Hartley. "We have a long way to go in this investigation."

Neighbors say Smith worked as a painter, and that he just got out of jail three weeks ago.

The investigation began around 11 p.m. at the Walmart at 12100 Lem Turner Road.  Police received a report of a young girl being taken away from the store by an unknown male in a white van. The abductor fled south on Lem Turner Road.

Police activated its Child Abduction Response Team, or CART. Multiple agencies got involved, and the FDLE issued an Amber Alert early Saturday morning.

Authorities searched area motels, and the homes of sex offenders and sex predators.

The victim's mother picked Donald J. Smith from a series of photos of possible suspects as the man who took her daughter. Police later learned Smith had not been home since 7 a.m. on Friday and drove a white Dodge van similar to the one sought by police.

"This is a transition from abduction investigation to a murder investigation," said Hartley. "We have the support of the entire state of Florida and the agencies surrounded us. JFRD, FDLE, you name. The beaches all have been good assistance to us."

Cherish attended Chaffee Trail Elementary School, according to Duval County Schools spokeswoman Marsha Oliver.

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