Donald J. Smith, 56, was arrested for the murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Smith is a registered sex offender who was released from jail on May 31 and is alleged to have befriended the girl's mother in order to get close to the child.
Cherish was abducted on Friday from a Wal-Mart; her mother explained that Smith had befriended her while she was shopping with Cherish and offered to take the girl to McDonald's. He instead allegedly took Cherish, killed her, and left her body near a church. Police have said that Smith is not cooperating with them and refuses to say what happened in the time he spent with the child or how she died.
Family and friends gathered at the Perrywinkle residence to offer support to Cherish's mother, Reyne, during the ordeal.
"I was telling her it's going to be alright, that God never makes a mistake," friend Richard Harvey told The Florida Times-Union. "She was drying her tears and drying my tears. We finally let go. 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,' and she wasn't."
"Me and my wife prayed," another friend, Patrick Williams, said. "After I got done praying, I didn't have a good feeling."
Smith was arrested and charged in 1993 for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials. He was labeled a sex offender and forced to register with the national database. He has been arrested several times since then and was released from the latest stint on May 31.
A tip called in by a citizen led police to Smith, who was initially compliant with officers but refused to answer any questions about his involvement in the crime.
"When you've got an innocent, helpless child and their life has been taken out from under them, murdered… it's so evil," Ann Dugger, executive director of the Justice Coalition's victim rights group told the Times-Union. "It's the hardest thing you've ever been through in your life."
Smith is currently being held without bail.