Charish Perriwinkle, 8, was abducted at a Walmart Friday night and later killed. Police have arrested Donald J. Smith, 56, in her slaying. Smith is a registered sex offender who was just released from jail on May 31. Here are updates from throughout the day.
5:30 p.m.: Family friends began gathering early Saturday to be with Charish Perriwinkle's mother, Reyne Perriwinkle, at her one-story Northside home on Alan Avenue in a working class neighborhood just west of Interstate 95 and Lem Turner Road.
Richard Harvey and Perriwinkle embraced in a tear-filled hug about noon on the porch. They’ve been friends for about three years and he described her as a protective mother.
“I was telling her it’s going to be alright, that God never makes a mistake,” said Harvey, 51. “She was drying her tears and drying my tears. We finally let go.”
Harvey said Perriwinkle drifted in and out of apparent shock during the afternoon.
“She talked for a little while and said things like, ‘I know she’s dead, but I still feel like she’s going to be walking through the door any minute now,’” Harvey said. “And she wasn’t.”
Patrick Williams, 41, said he met up with Perriwinkle’s boyfriend, Aaron Pearson, about 1 a.m. and took him up to the Walmart to check on the police investigation. Williams left Pearson, who is not the girl’s father, at the scene a short time later.
“Me and my wife prayed,” Williams, 41, said of his return home. “After I got done praying, I didn’t have a good feeling.”
Among those who consoled Charish’s mother were Ann Dugger, executive director of the Justice Coalition victim rights group, and Kathy Pannell, the Sheriff’s Office victim’s advocate.
Dugger trembled as she described caring for the mother she described as broken.
“When you’ve got an innocent, helpless child and their life has been taken out from under them, murdered … it’s so evil,” Dugger said. “It’s the hardest thing you’ve ever been through in your life.”
Dugger said Perriwinkle asked for her privacy, but would possibly make a statement at another time.
Harvey and Williams described Charish as a happy-go-luck girl with a bright smile and kind heart.
“She had the most beautiful eyes,” Harvey said.
“She was always a little lady,” Williams said.
5:10 p.m.: Donald J. Smith lives in a comfortable Southside house on Segovia Avenue his mother has owned for decades, in a neighborhood where people knew of his arrest history.
Neighbor Kevin Shivar, who has a 16-year-old daughter said: “We don’t need people like that in this neighborhood.”
Smith had been a painting contractor and handyman, neighbors said. They said Smith at one point spent hours regularly maintaining the yard.
“Had you not known anything, you would have thought he was neighbor of the year,” said a neighbor who would not give his name but said he had decided to be a “buddy” to Smith after earlier concerns about whether he was involved in area burglaries. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” the neighbor said.
He said Smith had feared he faced a long prison sentence after facing charges in 2009 that involved attempted child abuse and attempting to impersonate a government employee.
The neighbor said he was shocked when the felony case ended in 2012 with plea-bargained guilty pleas to charges that carried only a year behind bars.
The neighbor said Smith had been nearly invisible since returning home a few weeks ago.
Smith has been divorced for some years and has a son in his early or mid-20s, who had been spent some time around the house with Smith’s mother, who is in her 80s, the neighbor said.
No one answered the door when a reporter went to the house Saturday.
4:15: Charish Perriwinkle loved the color pink, watching Disney movies, being in water and going to school.
That description of the 8-year-old girl, who was abducted Friday from a Walmart and later killed, appears in court documents about a custody dispute between Charish's parents, who were not married.
The dispute ended in 2010 when Duval County Judge Linda McCallum granted shared responsibility between Reyne Perriwinkle and Billy Jarreau, but with the mother keeping primary custody.
Charish is further described as enjoying cartoons, having tea parties and playing with dolls, games and Play-Doh. She attended Chaffee Trail Elementary School.
Her mother read to her nightly and often bought things for Charish and two stepsisters rather than herself, the mother's boyfriend said.
Charish moved with her mother and her mother's boyfriend from small home to small home and spent at least some time as an infant living with her mother in a homeless shelter, the records show.
Charish had several stepsiblings, including two stepsisters from the mother and boyfriend.
The mother could not be reached to comment. The father declined to comment when reached at a neighbor's home in Campo, Calif., near San Diego.
3 p.m.: The man charged in the killing of 8-year-old Charish Perriwinkle had just been released from jail May 31.
Police said they made contact Friday morning with Donald James Smith, 56, who is a registered sex offender, at the home on Segovia Avenue, where he is registered. It was a routine address verification, according to Detective Mike Williams.
Smith lived within walking distance from Dupont Middle School. Police said there was no restriction on him living that close to a school because he was a registered sexual offender, not sexual predator.
Charish was reported as being abducted Friday night from the Walmart on Lem Turner Road. Her body was found Saturday morning in a wooded area off Broward Road.
Williams said Charish's mother met Smith at a Dollar General on Edgewood Avenue West about 7 p.m. Friday. Two younger children, 4 and 5 years old, were also there and remain in the mother's custody.
Smith offered to buy food and clothes for Perriwinkle's family at the nearby Walmart, Williams said. The family was in the Walmart for a couple of hours, he said.
The mother agreed to let Charish go with Smith to the McDonald's inside the Walmart. The two did not return and the mother called police.
Williams said Smith was "compliant" when pulled over on Interstate 95, but has refused to answer questions.
Within a short period of the stop, police received a call about a suspicious van in the 2100 block of Broward Road. Police began searching a wooded area there with K-9 units and found the victim's body.
Williams praised the citizen who called in the tip for "stepping up."
"That suspicious vehicle call really shortened this investigation for us," Williams said. "It got us where we needed to be a lot quicker than maybe we could have on our own."
He said Perriwinkle's mother is doing "as good as can be expected."
Police said they don't know of any accomplices, but they are looking for another vehicle.
2:45 p.m.: Police have scheduled a 3 p.m. press conference about the death of 8-year-old Charish Perriwinkle.
No one answered the door at a home where Perriwinkle was listed as living in 2010. The home may have been vacant. And neighbors said they didn't know the family.
12:04 p.m.: Police are focusing a lot of attention at a creek near Highlands Baptist Church. Officers were putting down what appeared to be a sheet of plastic near the creek.
Linda Karshirsky, who lives near the church, said that at about 8:45 a.m. or 9 a.m., her husband saw a light blue truck parked on a bridge over the creek. No one was in the truck and he reported what he saw to police, his wife said. It's not clear if the truck is related to the police investigation.
A fire department ladder truck is parked in the street at the bridge, over the creek.
11:18 a.m.: Linda Kashirsky and her husband returned Saturday morning to their house near Highlands Baptist Church on Broward Road to see investigators searching for evidence.
“I’m just devastated for the parents of that child," Kashirsky said. "It’s so, so sad. I got goosebumps when I heard. I just want to cry.”
The couple had just moved a half a block from the church two weeks ago, so they said they're not very familiar with the neighborhood.
Deborah Howell, a longtime resident of the area, also lives near the church.
“We’re a very, very close-knit neighborhood," Howell said. "As soon as I saw the police, we all started calling each other. I cannot believe this has happened.”
Another neighbor, Charlotte Dupree, said she was shocked and upset to hear what might have happened in her community.
"We were all in our houses watching the Amber Alert, and the child was down there dead,” Dupree said.
Neighbors describe the area near the church as including a two-story vacant house and a creek where people go crabbing. It's not clear yet exactly where police are focusing their attention since the area is blocked off.
10:56 a.m.: Police were on Broward Road near Highlands Baptist Church Saturday morning. Two women who said they are friends of the victim's family are weeping at the scene now. They declined to comment to the media or provide their names. A news conference is scheduled for 3 p.m.
10:46 a.m.: The abduction and killing are reminiscent of the 2009 abduction and slaying of 7-year-old Somer Thompson while walking home from school in her Orange Park neighborhood. Police found Somer’s body in a Georgia landfill and later arrested Jarred Harrell, who pleaded guilty in the case in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Diena Thompson, Somer’s mother, became a national champion for children’s and victim’s rights after her daughter’s death. Thompson said she first learned about Saturday’s tragedy about 6 a.m. after turning on the news.
“I’m sickened,” Thompson told The Times-Union in a telephone interview. “Her [the mother’s] nightmare has just begun.”
10:23 a.m.: The body of an 8-year-old girl who went missing Friday night has been found at a church off Broward Road.
Charish Lilly Perriwinkle's body was found a little before 10 a.m. Saturday. Police wouldn't idenify the name of the church.
The sexual offender suspected of abducting her was taken into custody by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office a little after 9 a.m.
Perriwinkle was reported missing about 11 p.m. Friday by her mother at the Walmart Supercenter at 12100 Lem Turner Road.
Police spokesman Shannon Hartley said during a 9:30 a.m. news conference that Donald James Smith, 56, was in custody after officers surrounded a white van on southbound Interstate 95 near the Interstate 10 split. Hartley didn't know if Smith was armed when taken into custody. He has several previous arrests involving lewd behavior with children.
The Sheriff's Office released two grainy photos of a second vehicle being sought. Hartley said police want to find the vehicle and the person driving it. The quality of the photos (one of which is attached to the story) are so poor police haven't been able to give details such as the make and model.
"Obviously having Mr. Smith in custody is a huge break for us," Hartley said.
Sgt. Lonnie Mills of the Sheriff’s Office said earlier that Charish was taken by a man who had befriended the girl's mother at the store and said he was taking the girl to the store’s McDonald’s located at the front for a snack.
Police searched the area with helicopters and ground units but found no immediate trace of the man or the girl.
Smith was reportedly driving a 1998 white Dodge van, Florida plates BCBK32, Mills said. The vehicle has a 2-inch dark pinstripe down its sides, two large windows on the driver’s side, one large window and double doors on the passenger side and double doors on the back.
Smith, whose registered address is 2495 Segovia Ave., was last arrested in 2009 where he was accused of impersonating a Department of Children and Services officer and making obscene and threatening calls to a 9-year-old girl.
The arrest report said he had called a 12-year-old boy on his cellphone asking to speak to his sister, whom he knew by name. The boy gave him his mother's cellphone. The man called her saying he was with DCF conducting an investigation regarding her daughter.
The girl was visiting grandparents, so he called them and spoke with the daughter for about 20 minutes. He had asked questions about whether she wore a bra and what her privates looked like. Then he told the grandmother the child's father and grandfather were suspected of molesting her and that if she told anyone of their conversation she could go to jail.
He demanded she bring the girl to a McDonald's so he could examine her. She did so, but went inside instead of waiting in the parking lot as instructed. The man did not appear. The mother later gave police the man's phone number and traced it to Smith.
Smith also served prison time for attempted kidnapping and lewd and lascivious assault on children. The first time he attempted to lure a 13-year-old girl into his van and chased her as she ran away. The second time involved Smith trying to lure two girls into his van with pornographic magazines, according to Times-Union archives.
Anyone who has any information is asked to contact police at (904) 630-0500 or call 911.
Times-Union writer Scott Butler contributed to this report.