2 most notorious child sex crimes in past 5 years
Murders of Somer Thompson and Cherish Perrywinkle rocked community
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Parents never want to think that their child will be targeted by a predator. But history reminds us it has happened in our area and could happen again.
On Oct. 19, 2009, 7-year-old Somer Thompson had run ahead of her twin brother and older sister after school ended at Grove Park Elementary on Gano Avenue in Orange Park. This happened in a middle-class neighborhood of one-story homes where crime has never been a problem.
Somer and her family lived less than a mile from the school, which is why Somer and her siblings were not eligible to ride the bus.
When her sister and brother arrived home without her and no one could find Somer, a family friend called her mother, who called 911.
By that evening Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler had ordered many of his deputies to search the neighborhood for the missing girl. It was a cold evening; there was no reason Somer wouldn't want to come home.
"We're leaving no stone unturned," Beseler said that night during a news conference held in a field near where Somer had disappeared.
Deputies and neighbors were searching with flashlights and the Sheriff's Office issued a reverse 911 call alerting everyone in the area to be on the lookout for Somer.
By the next day dozens of searchers turned into hundreds as word spread. Fliers were passed out. People from as far away as Orlando drove to Orange Park to help search.
Then-Gov. Charlie Crist visited the command center from which the search was coordinated.
On the third day of the search came news no one wanted to hear: "It's with deep regret and sadness that I have to inform you that a body has been found," announced Beseler.
Somer Thompson's body was found in a landfill many miles away from Clay County in Folkston, Georgia, where trash from Clay County's dumpsters is taken.
The news shook the small community of Orange Park and all those who gathered outside Somer's home each night to sing her favorite song, "You Are My Sunshine."
Fifteen detectives worked the case for months tracking down more than 4,400 leads. While there were some persons of interest, none of were people Somer knew. The Christmas holidays came and went and the crime went unsolved.
Four months after's body was found,, Beseler announced the arrest of Jared Harrell, a 24-year-old man who had lived in a home on Gano Avenue. Somer walked by the home every day going to and from school. While, While Somer never mentioned him to her mother, Diena Thompson, there was a large white dog that lived in the yard and Somer loved dogs.
Harrell had no arrest record, but at the time was being investigated for child pornography found on his former roommate's computer.That investigation took months and started before Somer's disappearance. By the time Clay County investigators connected the dots to Harrell he had moved to Mississippi, where he was arrested.
During his taped interview with detectives, Harrell said Somer appeared in his doorway looking for the dog and he allowed her to enter his house. He admitted to killing Somer Thompson on his bed. He was charged with murder and sexual assault.
He claims he tried to have sex with her after her death. He was also questioned about pornographic pictures found on a camera containing images of a young female relative.
During the police interrogation Jarrell told detectives he needed help for his fixation on child pornography.
Somer's mother has worked tirelessly to get the Florida Legislature to toughen laws against sex offenders and predators.
In June 21, 2013 Cherish Perrywinkle disappeared from a Walmart store on Jacksonville's Northside.
The 8-year-old had been driven to the store with her mother and two younger sisters by a man her mother had met at another store. Police say Donald Smith approached Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, while she and her daughters were shopping and offered to help them.
Rayne Perrywinkle told police that Smith said he had a gift card to Walmart and would buy the children clothes if they traveled together to the store. While was a stranger to the family, she accepted the ride.
Police say that while inside the store on Lem Turner Road, Smith told Cherish's mom he would take the girl to the front of the McDonald's at the front of the store to buy her food.
Police said surveillance video shows Smith leading the 8-year-old out of the store and driving away in his van.
Cherish's body was found less than a day later in a marshy area near the Trout River. A woman reported seeing Smith's van, the subject of an Amber Alert, near where Cherish's body was discovered.
Prosecutors say Cherish was raped and killed.
Smith is a convicted sex offender who was released from jail just three weeks before Cherish's murder. His trial is scheduled for January.
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