Timeline of Cherish's abduction reviewed

Mom's desperate 911 call raises new questions on Jacksonville police response

Walmart surveillance video

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With surveillance video and 911 recordings made the night Cherish Perrywinkle was taken from a Northwest Jacksonville Walmart released, News4Jax is taking a closer look at police response in those first hours of what would become a homicide investigation.

The video appears to show Donald Smith walking out of the store with Cherish at 10:41 p.m. Her body was found almost exactly 12 hours later in a wooded area behind a Northside church.

Police accuse Smith, who at the time was a registered sex offender, of taking the 8-year-old from the Lem Turner Road store on June 21, 2013, raping and killing her. His trial has been delayed for months because of pending changes to the state's death penalty laws.

"I don't want him to kill her," Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, told a 911 operator. "I don't want to be one of those parents who go through this."

Perrywinkle told investigators that she met Smith, who promised to buy clothes for her struggling family.

"I don't understand why he would leave right now. I already know he's going to rape her," she said on the 911 call she made when she couldn't find Smith and her daughter after he had said he was taking her to get something to eat.

Police arrived at Walmart at 11:18 p.m. and searched for Cherish and Smith. Reviewing the store's surveillance, they found Smith casually walking out with Cherish about 10:41 p.m. and driving away in his white van.

About 9 a.m. the next day, Smith was stopped in that van on I-95 near I-10. An hour later, after getting a tip, they found Cherish's body in a creek behind a Northside church.

"We are calling about a suspicious van over here. A white van. It was caught behind some bushes really deep," a caller told 911 Saturday morning.

Could anything have been done to save the girl's life? An internal review by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office found a lapse in time and judgment by responding officers. John Rutherford, sheriff at the time, said they should have called in more resources and alerted the public much sooner.

While the surveillance video clearly showed Smith walking out with the girl, which was consistent with what the mother was telling officers, for the first several hours police considered it a missing persons case, not an abduction.

"It can't end well at all, but you can only go by the information that you have and the dispatcher did not inform them that it was an abduction, even though Ms. Perrywinkle was quite clear in stating that her daughter was taken," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. "Not missing, but taken by someone."

Police didn't notify the media of a possible abduction for more than six hours. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent out an Amber Alert one hour after that.

The internal report indicates that detectives initially doubted Rayne Perrywinkle's story.

"When you get a report like that -- that someone has been abducted -- no matter what you may think of it, you have to take it seriously and follow protocol," Gil Smith said.

Gil Smith said we'll never know what could have happened to Cherish if the response had been different.

"If everything had (been) done right, then the response would've been a lot quicker -- Amber (Alert) would've been out quicker," he said. "We just don't know that if everything had been done correctly, would that have saved the girl's life? We can't say for sure that it would have. We just don't know."

As a result of the internal JSO investigation, two homicide team supervisors were disciplined and transferred out of that division. A dispatcher who admitted she doubted the mother's story was suspended. The Sheriff's Office also said it changed policies to avoid making critical mistakes in response to future reported abductions.

Rayne Perrywinkle said she can't comment on the case because she's a witness and will have to testify in the trial.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.