JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A former manager of a Northside Walmart tearfully relived the haunting night she was on duty when 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle walked out of the store with Donald Smith.
Carlissa Ivey said the terror she felt the night of June 21, 2013 changed her life forever.
"It was hard," Ivey said. "And all this stuff kept coming out. I just knew. She's not alive."
As Ivey recounted that night to News4Jax on Wednesday, a jury heard testimony during the penalty phase of Smith's murder trial.
Smith, 61, was found guilty last week of kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder in Cherish's death. The jurors deliberated for only 12 minutes.
Ivey said she had to resign from the Walmart on Lem Turner Road shortly after Cherish's murder because of the traumatic memory of the night nearly five years ago. She described it as a burden she'll always carry.
"Every time I walk into a Walmart, there's a glimpse of when I was standing in the front dialing 911, hoping and praying to get this woman's child back," Ivey said. "I didn't want that to be in myself."
Ivey rushed to the side of Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, just seconds after she realized her daughter was missing. Ivey said she was the first person to know that Cherish had been abducted.
"We were shutting down. It was close to time to close and the mom came up to us and she was, of course, distraught, saying her daughter was missing," Ivey said. "She then went into saying they were in the fitting room. A gentleman she got a ride from offered to get Happy Meals and never came back with her daughter."
The minutes she spent with Rayne, looking for her daughter, felt like hours, Ivey said.
"We proceeded to lock the store down -- all entrances, exits, garden center and everything," Ivey detailed. "We were looking through everything -- all aisles and everything. Nothing."
Though she was panicking on the inside, Ivey said, she tried to keep it together as Rayne used her cellphone to call 911.
"When I made that first call, I called off of my phone and handed the phone to the mom," Ivey said. "I just tried to hold it together in that management role. But I will say that, as a mom, I feared for her life and mine. It was almost like my child was missing."
The then-customer service manager at the Walmart stood by the mother's side as she frantically spoke with the 911 dispatcher.
Dispatcher: "Ma'am, who are you talking to?"
Rayne: "The Walmart employee."
Ivey then went straight to view the store's surveillance video, which showed Smith walking out of the front entrance with Cherish by his side.
Ivey, who now has three children, said her motherly instincts immediately kicked in.
"As a manager and a mother, I'd have to say (I felt) fear," she said. "Especially finding out she wasn't in our store. The worst crosses your mind."
Ivey said she got hamburgers for Rayne's other two daughters and then returned to the mother's side until police arrived at the Walmart.
Hours later, when Ivey got word that Smith had been stopped by police the next morning, she said she got a weird feeling in her gut.
Cherish's body was discovered in a creek behind a church less than four miles away from the Walmart soon after Smith was in custody.
Now, as she's watched Smith's trial unfold over the last couple weeks, Ivey said that she relives that night more vividly than ever.
"That never goes out of your mind," she said. "It stuck."
It's a night that she said serves as a reminder to all parents to be careful who they trust around their children.
"I don't want to say, 'Don't trust anyone.' But use good judgment. I would say, your kids are always watching," Ivey said. "Who you trust, who they trust. Who you open your door to, they're opening their hearts to. They're willing to follow."
Ivey spoke to News4Jax outside the Northside Walmart that Cherish walked out of with Smith. Now, she said, she can't walk inside any Walmart without thinking of Cherish.
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The jury that convicted Smith must now decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Smith. Ivey said she just hopes the jury grants justice to Cherish and her loved ones.
"Nothing can bring Cherish back," Ivey said. "For him to be out of his misery in a matter of minutes is unfair. I think he should definitely live with it just like everyone else does."
She said the night was so haunting that even some of her family members and friends don't know she was on the other side of the phone when Rayne dialed 911 after seeing her daughter alive for the last time.
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