JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Family and friends are gathering at a Westside church for a viewing Thursday evening to remember 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.
The event at Paxon Revival Center Church on Commonwealth Avenue runs through 8 p.m. and is open to the public. Her body lies in a pink casket -- her favorite color -- at the front of the church.
While they fought over custody of Cherish for years, her mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, and father, Billy Jarreau, are both attending the services.
"The mother is weeping and crying and saying -- the mother said, 'I made the mistake of my life,'" Paxon Revival Pastor Steve Dobbs said. "She takes all the blame and all the guilt. She said, 'There's nothing anyone can say about me that can hurt worse that what I'm feeling inside.'"
At 2 p.m. Friday, the family and many of the same friends and supporters will return to the same church for a funeral. Cherish will be buried at Riverside Memorial Park on Normandy Boulevard, about four miles away.
Pastor Dobbs says Friday's service will be a home-going and a celebration of Cherish's life.
The public is invited to attend all services, and News4Jax.com will carry Friday's service online.
"I know it's been a bad time for Jacksonville and all of us," Dobbs said. "We've been crying. 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."
Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home is donating funeral services and the cemetery plot. It's one of many local groups trying to ease the burden on Cherish's family.
Cherish Perrywinkle's body was found at a Northside church early Saturday morning. The night before, her family met a Donald Smith, a convicted sex offender, at a Dollar General store on the Westside, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said the man told them he would buy them clothes at Walmart. After they went shopping with Smith, he said he was taking Cherish to McDonald's at the front of the store to get a snack. When they had not returned 20 minutes later, the mother called police.
Police quickly identified Smith from surveillance photos. His van was stopped on Interstate 95 about 9 a.m. Saturday, but Cherish was not with him. Her body was found a short time later in a wooded area off Broward Road.