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Mom turns to advocacy after young daughter Cherish Perrywinkle’s unthinkable rape, murder by convicted sex offender

Rayne Perrywinkle, the mother of an 8-year-old girl abducted from a Florida Walmart and later found raped and murdered, said she learned a lesson that will haunt her for life. She’s now hoping to help spread awareness about the signs parents should look for when it comes to manipulative predators, while also hoping laws chang to give sex offenders stiffer sentences.

Perrywinkle, of Jacksonville, spoke in an exclusive interview with Nancy Grace on a “Crime Stories” episode and explained what happened the night convicted sexual predator Donald Smith kidnapped her daughter Cherish in 2013 from the Jacksonville Walmart off of Lem Turner Road.

Perrywinkle, who was in the store with Smith, Rayne, and her two other children when the kidnapping occurred, said that she’s been blamed for what happened to her daughter that night. She explained that she lives with the mistake every day of her life and she understands why people are angry,  but she put her faith into someone who completely manipulated her during a time of need.

“People say that I was stupid and I should have known. Maybe if they were in my shoes that night, they may not have known either,” Perrywinkle told Grace. “When someone approaches you with seemingly good intentions and pretends that they go to church and pretends they’re a Christian, why would you not believe them?”

Atlanta’s Cold Case Research Institute Director Sheryl McCollum joined Nancy Grace and told Perrywinkle that the incident was not her fault. McCollum said Smith was a predator, a hunter who knew all the right things to do and say to a mother in dire need and how to manipulate her. Perrywinkle said had she known the signs to look for then and what she knows now, things would have been totally different.

“I was foolish, I admit it. A lot of parents make mistakes.”

Perrywinkle spoke with CrimeOnline and said with the new knowledge she’s gained since the tragedy, she now wants to advocate for children and help parents understand the warning signs, which are sometimes so subtle that children disappear before people realize it. She also said doesn’t believe in the “three strikes you’re out” law and that people who hurt children shouldn’t be given a second chance.

“It’s critical that people band together with very strong voices and keep these criminals locked up. Children’s lives are too precious to risk. People say ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ No, it should be one time and you’re gone. What if they severely rape or a molest a child, then the next time they’re let out, they murder a child? That’s what I’m fearing.”

Rayne Perrywinkle is scheduled to appear on the Dr. Oz show next month and plans to continue learning as she spreads awareness and fights for the rights of children.

What You Need to Know

As CrimeOnline previously reported, on June 21, 2013, suspect Donald James Smith, then 57,  approached single, struggling mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, at the Dollar General store on Edgewood Avenue West in Jacksonville. The man first offered to buy the mom a dress, then offered to buy her a $150 gift card, to which she agreed, according to court documents. When he found out Perrywinkle didn’t have a car of her own, he somehow convinced her to ride with him to pick up the card at a nearby Walmart.

Smith reportedly drove Perrywinkle, her daughter, 8-year-old Cherish, and her two other little girls to the Walmart off of Lem Turner Road, claiming that his wife would meet them there and help them shop for clothing. The family loaded into Smith’s white van, lined with dark curtains on the inside.

At around 11 p.m., Smith’s wife still hadn’t arrived. It’s still unclear whether she ever existed, as Perrywinkle never once saw her. The suspect then allegedly suggested getting food at the McDonald’s inside the store, and asked Cherish to accompany him and pick out the food she wanted. After 30 minutes passed and her daughter hadn’t returned, Perrywinkle became frantic and called the police after an employee allowed her to use their phone.

Cherish Perrywinkle [Photo: Family Handout]

“I don’t want him to kill her. I don’t want to be one of those parents who go through this.” Perrywinkle told a 911 operator. “I don’t understand why he would leave right now. I already know he’s going to rape her.”

After a lapse in time while discussing strategies to find the little girl, officers began canvassing the area in search of Cherish. They obtained surveillance footage from Walmart and watched Smith exiting the store with the child following closely behind. They later identified Smith as a convicted sex offender who had only been out of jail for around three weeks before he reportedly preyed upon the Perrywinkle family.

Smith had an extensive criminal record, which included a lewd assault on a child, an attempted abduction on a 13-year-old girl, harassing phone calls to a 9-year-old girl, and an attempted abduction on two teen girls by trying to lure them to his vehicle with pornographic magazines. The suspect’s criminal record dated back to 1977.

At close to 9 a.m. the following morning, officers spotted Smith’s van off of I-95 near downtown Jacksonville. As officers approached his vehicle and surrounded him, they noticed Smith, dirty and soaked in water, was wearing the same clothes he had on in the Walmart surveillance footage.

Around the same time, officers received a tip that a “suspicious” van was seen around Broward Road. After utilizing K-9 units, little Cherish’s lifeless body was found in a nearby swampy ditch.

She’d been badly beaten, raped, and murdered.

Last month, a Jacksonville jury convicted Smith for Cherish’s rape and murder. He was sentenced to death.

[Feature Photo: Rayne and Cherish Perrywinkle/Family Handout]