Sex offender arrested in murder of 8-year-old girl abducted from Walmart

A registered sex offender charged with murder and kidnapping in the death of 8-year-old Cherish Perriwinkle* has been denied bail by a Florida judge.

Donald James Smith of Jacksonville was arrested and charged with the child's murder on Saturday after her body was found that morning.

Perriwinkle disappeared from a Walmart in Jacksonville, Fla. on Friday night.

"This is a transition from an abduction investigation to a murder investigation," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman Shannon Hartley told reporters.

"Obviously, we have the unfortunate answer that we didn't want to have."

Police said that Smith befriended Perriwinkle and her mother while they were shopping at a dollar store. According to police, Smith offered to take the family to a nearby Walmart and buy them some clothes.

"After being inside the store for a couple hours, the man then offered to buy some hamburgers," Michael Williams, director of the sheriff's investigations department told reporters.

"As he walked to the front of the store, he took our 8-year-old victim with him. They walked to the front of the Walmart toward the McDonald's. They did not stop at the McDonald's. They walked outside, got in his van and left the location."

According to, two other children, ages 4 and 5, were with the family and remained with the mother.

Police originally said Perriwinkle's mother, Rayne Perriwinkle, allowed Cherish to go to the McDonald's with Smith but Ms. Perriwinkle denied the allegation.

"He asked if I wanted anything and I heard Cherish say 'cheeseburger.' I thought she stayed near me. I didn't realize she went with him. I didn't let her go with him like people think," Perriwinkle told Action News.

"He was creepy, so I wouldn't have let her go, I just didn't realize she was gone."

Smith was most recently released from jail on May 31 after being charged with child abuse in 2009 for making obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old.

He was also charged with making verbal threats and impersonating a social worker who claimed to be investigating the girl's family, according to the Miami Herald.

Smith has been a registered sex offender since 1993. Police arrested him Saturday morning as he drove south on I-95 in a white van.

*In the original version of this story the victim's name was spelled Charish, based on information at the time of publication.

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