JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - While locals feel sick to their stomachs hearing about the kidnapping and killing of Cherish Perrywinkle, Diena Thompson says she feels like she is reliving her own child's death all over again.
Thompson's daughter Somer disappeared nearly four years ago as the 7-year-old walked home from her Orange Park school.
A neighbor is now serving life in prison for Somer's rape and murder.
Thompson talked Monday about how she is using her daughter's tragedy to try to help Cherish's family.
She said it has taken her three and a half years to get her mind around the fact that her daughter is not coming home. Unfortunately, she knows all too well what Cherish's mother is going through.
"I feel like lightning has struck twice," Thompson said.
She wishes no other mother would ever have to experience the same heart-wrenching pain she has.
Thompson is now trying to help Rayne Perrywinkle cope with the pain and also criticism that is bound to follow.
"That is one of the things that affected me the most: having complete strangers who hadn't even met me, who could draw these horrible conclusions about me, when I didn't kill Somer," Thompson said. "The person responsible for killing this child is the person who should be blamed."
Thompson met with Cherish's mom Sunday at her home and also attended a vigil.
Two slain girls less than four years apart is a reminder of the bad things that can happen to even the most innocent.
"Somer's murderer was not on a list," Thompson said. "These people look just like you and me, and they are sophisticated in their techniques of luring people. And it scares me that he was able to persuade a mother. What could he do if left alone with a child?"
Eight-year-old Cherish likely had no reason to suspect the man her mother seemingly trusted, Donald Smith.
Thompson said she hopes parents will now talk to their children again about the dangers, just as she did with Somer's brother and sister.
"Soon as they got up, I said, 'Hey, I want you to watch,'" Thompson said. "'Although everything has calmed down with Somer, I want you to know that these people are still here lurking in our streets and in our neighborhoods.'"
Thompson is trying to turn her daughter's tragedy into something that can help others. She is working with the Monique Burr Foundation, teaching classes to parents about predators, the warning signs and how they manipulate children.
To learn more, go to MoniqueBurrFoundation.org.
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