Saturday marks 1 year since Cherish Perrywinkle's abduction, killing

Case rocked Jacksonville, helped change state laws

By Scott Johnson - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A year ago Saturday, Rayne Perrywinkle called 911 to report the abduction of her daughter, Cherish, from a Northside Walmart.

Cherish's body was found hours later and 56-year-old registered sexual offender Donald Smith (pictured below) was arrested and charged with kidnapping, raping and killing the 8-year-old girl. Smith is awaiting trial in October.

The case rocked the Jacksonville community last year and had far-reaching consequences for everyone from a grieving mother to how the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office responds to missing persons cases to tougher sexual offender laws passed by the Florida legislature.

Lysa Telzer, a victim's advocate with the Justice Coalition, said she spent Friday with Rayne Perrywinkle (pictured below), who has dealt with everything from the death of her daughter to public debate over whether she was negligent, which prompted a prolonged custody battle for her two other children.

"This is all a fight for Cherish now and justice for Cherish," Telzer said. "Even though I'm with Rayne every week, (we) speak every day, I am not in her shoes. No one is in her shoes. How do you think that someone like this is handling what she's going through. It's been a very difficult year and it's not over, and it will never be over."

Cherish's disappearance ultimately caused a shakeup at JSO, when multiple high-ranking officers were reprimanded for not alerting the public soon enough that a little girl had been abducted.

The case also helped prompt changes in state law. Gov. Rick Scott, citing Cherish's case and others, signed four landmark bills in April to better protect children in Florida from sexual predators. The bills tighten rules and close loopholes for sex offenders to make sure once they are behind bars, they stay there.

"Because we need to stop predators that are walking the streets where they don't belong," Telzer said. "That are out from jail that perhaps shouldn't be out from jail, so that things like what happened to Cherish will never happen again."

News4Jax asked if Rayne Perrywinkle would like to comment on the anniversary and was told she wants to keep her life private right now.

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