Editorial: JSO needs to fix not informing media, public

WJXT Editorial by Vice President/General Manager Bob Ellis

By Bob Ellis, WJXT general manager

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There's a lot we still don't know yet about the tragic death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. What is becoming clearer in the past few days is the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office did not do a good enough job alerting the public there was a search for a missing child.

Sheriff John Rutherford admitted to our news department Monday the public should have been told sooner a girl was believed to have been kidnapped by a known sex offender. As you know, the fastest way this happens is by telling the news media; we immediately go on TV and spread the word by showing pictures and giving vehicle descriptions.

According to the timeline, the mother reported her daughter missing from Walmart late Friday night. Police arrived at about 11:20 p.m. But it took more than five hours before the media knew it was a little girl missing with a known sex offender.

To be clear, the issue isn't about the media; it's about you, the people of Jacksonville. We take very seriously our role to inform you about what's happening where you live. We have been told over and over by law enforcement time is critical in the immediate hours after a child has been abducted. Why didn't JSO practice what it preaches? The sheriff promised he'd find out.

JSO's hand-to-the-face attitude toward the news media is well-documented. We are perceived as adversaries instead of allies. You'll remember they removed police scanners from our newsrooms two years ago so we wouldn't hear about police activity in Jacksonville as it was happening.

More recently we've been prohibited from having direct access to police reports.

We applaud Sheriff Rutherford for admitting there was a breakdown in the early morning hours Saturday. But JSO needs to explain to you what happened, and they need to fix it. Knowing what's happening in your neighborhood is how you take steps to keep your family safe. Nothing can be done now to save Cherish. It appears though overdue changes in JSOs policies to notify the public might help avoid the next time.

Timeline of events shows JSO response, media notification of girl's abduction, killing

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday: Rayne Perrywinkle, her daughter Cherish and two other children meet Donald Smith at the Dollar General at 1610 Edgewood Ave. West.
  • 9 p.m.: The group arrives at the Walmart at 12100 Lem Turner Road to shop for clothes. After about 90 minutes, Smith says he wants to get something to eat at the in-store McDonald's and offers to take Cherish with him.
  • 10:41 p.m.: Smith's van is seen leaving the Walmart.
  • 11:18 p.m.: JSO arrives at the Walmart in response to Perrywinkle's 911 call. A be-on-the-lookout is issued for Smith and his van.
  • 12:29 a.m. Saturday: First JSO media EARS notification alert is sent to local outlets. There is no mention of a child abduction.
  • 1:45 a.m.: Second JSO EARS alert is sent with no timetable yet for a media briefing and no mention of a child abduction.
  • 4:40 a.m.: Third JSO EARS alert is sent notifying the media of a 5 a.m. briefing. There is no mention of a child abduction.
  • 4:42 a.m.: Email is sent to media outlets from JSO public information Officer Shannon Hartley regarding the 5 a.m. briefing and giving first mention of a child abduction.
  • 5 a.m.: JSO tells the media about Cherish's abduction.
  • 5:28 a.m.: Florida Department of Law Enforcement issues an Amber Alert.
  • 9 a.m.: A JSO officer spots Smith's van on Interstate 95 and Interstate 10. He's stopped near the Forest Street exit a short time later. A few minutes before the arrest, JSO had gotten a call of a suspicious van at a church at 10400 Rutgers Road.
  • 10:23 a.m.: Searching a nearby wooded area with K9s, JSO finds a body believed to be that of Cherish Perrywinkle.

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