Investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office continue to build their case against Donald Smith, the man accused of kidnapping and then killing Cherish Perrywinkle. Investigators asked the public Wednesday afternoon for help in the case.
Police showed pictures of a stroller they say was present at the time the Perrywinkle was abducted. Investigators said the stroller, a dual stroller that holds two children front to back, is important and they need to find it.
Police released a surveillance photo of a stroller that Cherish's family had at a Dollar General. A second photo released was one similar to what the stroller looks like, possibly a Graco brand.
Chief of Investigations Annie Smith said Cherish's mother put the stroller in murder suspect Donald Smith's van when they drove from the Dollar General to a Northside Walmart, and that the stroller was in Smith's van at the time of the abduction. But when police found his van near Interstate 95 and I-10 on Saturday morning, the stroller wasn't inside.
Richard Kuritz is a former prosecutor who told Channel 4 Wednesday that investigators still need to prove that Cherish left with Smith in his van, and he said it's quite likely Smith's van was cleaned out before police found him.
"Right now we're looking at it as evidence," Annie Smith said. "We know it was in the suspect's van at some point and it was not in his van when he was taken into custody the next morning."
"We all know they got together, we all know perhaps he left with the little girl, but we have no idea what happened from there," said Kuritz. "So, what they're trying to do is figure out what happened to this stroller. My guess is: figure out the stroller, figure out where it's at. Why would it have been dumped? Is her DNA going to be on it, is his DNA going to be on it?" said Kuritz.
Smith said the stroller is the biggest item the public can help police find, and she said there may be other items of evidentiary value around it.
"Just because we have a suspect in custody, we haven't solved all the answers and questions we have," Smith said. "I believe it's a key piece of evidence or we wouldn't have asked the public to help us with it."
Even though Smith has been arrested, Kuritz says it's very possible they still don't have the evidence needed to convict.
Channel 4 Crime Analyst Ken Jefferson believes detectives have been in constant communication with prosecutors and know they need everything they can before the case goes goes to trial.
Police described the stroller as striped or plaid with two seats, front and back, and an older model in disrepair.
Anyone who has seen a stroller that is out of place or in a location it wasn't previously is asked to not touch it and call police at 904-630-0500.
Also Wednesday, police released their dispatch log, along with a summary of what Cherish's mom, Rayne Perrywinkle, told the 911 operator when her daughter disappeared.
At 11:19 p.m. Friday, dispatchers got their first call from Cherish's mother. According to the incident recap, she says she met a man at the Dollar General and rode with him to the Lem Turner Road Walmart and described what he and her daughter look like.
Then she told the dispatcher that the man took Cherish into the dressing room twice. The log doesn't explain why. Minutes later, Rayne went on to say that the man was giving Cherish too much attention and wanted to buy her daughter high heels.
Rayne told the dispatcher the man said his name was "Don" and he offered to buy clothes for the girl because he saw they were having a hard time.
Cherish's mother said she called police about a half-hour after the man said he was going to the McDonald's inside the store and her daughter went with him. That's when police launched a full-scale investigation.
Police have still not released Cherish's autopsy results, so her cause of death is still unknown. Donald Smith remains in jail without bail, charged with kidnapping and murder, with the possibility of more charges to come.
Funeral services for Cherish donated by funeral home
Meanwhile, less than a week after Cherish Perrywinkle was abducted and killed, her family is preparing to say their final goodbyes.
A viewing for Cherish will be held from 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Paxon Revival Center Church on Commonwealth Avenue. Funeral Services will also be held at the church at 2 p.m. Friday.
She'll be buried at Riverside Memorial Park on Normandy Boulevard on the Westside.
Hardage-Giddens Town and Country Funeral Home is donating the funeral services and the cemetery plot to Cherish's family, including the casket and headstone.
When Cherish was abducted and found dead, the whole community wept. Most didn't know the 8-year-old girl, but so many wanted to help. Police are continuing their investigation, but in the meantime, she has to be buried.
"Here at the church, we're ready to celebrate her life," said Pastor Steve Dobbs, of Paxon Revival Center Church.
Dobbs will be leading the prayer services.
"I know it's been a bad time for Jacksonville, and all of us, we've been crying," he said. "I've cried my tears and my kids and grandkids and family and people and all the little kids in the church that's going to miss her, but we want to celebrate her life here, and it's going to be a great time."
Local businesses and organizations are playing a big role in the final goodbye.
"We're affected by anything that happens in this community and this affected our community in a very profound way, and it affected the people of our staff also," said Roger Delaney, of Hardage-Giddens Town and Country.
Because the funeral home has decided to cover the costs for Cherish's viewing and funeral, it's one less thing her grieving family has to worry about.
"So we want to relieve some of that burden for them," Delaney said.
He said it's the least they can do during such a tragic time.
"We want to be a part of the community and show that, yes, there are a lot of good people," Delaney said. "And this is one case of a bad person, but we have a lot of good people in this city."
If you want to help out with the funeral services, you're asked to call the Justice Coalition at 904-783-6312 or go to JusticeCoalition.org.