JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The younger sisters of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl who was abducted, raped and murdered in June 2013 have been adopted by an aunt who lives in Australia.
Rayne Perrywinkle, the girls' mother, said the adoption by her sister was finalized in November, but she didn't learn about it until another sister told her last week.
The custody proceeding for the girls was sealed by a judge.
The girls, Destiny, 9, and Nevaeh, 7, moved at the beginning of January.
The girls' former guardian ad litem, Patricia Parker, said Perrywinkle had the chance to get her daughters back but didn't meet the criteria, which is why the state had no choice but to put them up for adoption.
State law mandates that permanency for children is the goal, and most of the time parents are given 12 months to complete a case plan, which is a faster timeline than other states. Local officials say permanent placement for a child is more important than giving a parent more than the allotted time to meet the requirements to regain custody.
But Perrywinkle said after her 8-year-old daughter, Cherish, was murdered, she was unable to keep a stable job and was often turned down because of who she was because people blamed her for what happened to Cherish. On top of that, she was grieving the loss of her child and was in a dark place, she said.
Police said Donald Smith, a convicted sex offender, met Perrywinkle at a dollar store then took her and her daughters to a Northside Walmart. They said he went to the front of the store with Cherish under the pretense of buying the girl a hamburger, but walked out the front door instead and drove away with the girl in his van.
Cherish's body was found in the woods hours later near Highlands Baptist Church. She had been raped and strangled.
Smith's trial has been repeatedly delayed over issues with Florida's death penalty law.
As Perrywinkle waits for justice for her daughter, she said she is furious and hurt that her other girls were sent to live in Australia.
“I am their mother. I would die for them. I don’t’ care what anyone else says,” Perrywinkle said. “I would go without for my children. And there is so much not being said right now.”
Parker said once a birth parent's rights are terminated, the system typically seeks family members to adopt children, which worked out in this case.
“Going to Australia, starting a new life with family, that is the best thing for them,” Parker said.
Perrywinkle said she hasn’t spoken to her sister in years and believes the only reason her sister and her brother-in-law got married was to take the children away from her.
Parker said the couple had been together for years and got married to make sure everyone knew they were serious about providing a stable situation for the girls, even though Florida statue doesn’t require couples to be married to adopt.
“If you can't take care of your children would you rather your children be in foster care or with family?” Parker asked.
Perrywinkle said she wasn’t given a fair opportunity to prove her ability to take care of the girls. She said the last time she saw them was during visitation last March. She said she told them she would continue fighting to get them back and feels she was shut out of the process when she lost her parental rights.
“I wish they would just feel for one day what they’ve done to me,” Perrywinkle said. “It’s not all about myself. Cherish is the biggest victim in this. She is the biggest victim. But because I’m her mother, I’m the adult, I do the interviews and go to court hearings. But Destiny and Nevaeh Perrywinkle are victims in this too.”
Parker said the family is trying to get the girls Australian citizenship so they can attend school. A GoFundMe page has been created to help raise the $25,000 needed for the citizenship process to continue.