Suspect in Texas girl’s death and disappearance is a family friend who was supposed to take her to the bus stop, authorities say

Suspect in Texas girl’s death and disappearance is a family friend who was supposed to take her to the bus stop, authorities say

The suspect implicated in the tragic death and disappearance of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham is revealed to be a family acquaintance entrusted with the responsibility of escorting her to a school bus stop on the day she went missing. Authorities disclosed that the suspect, Don Steven McDougal, actively participated in the extensive multi-day search for the girl before her body was discovered in an east Texas river. Audrii’s family initially believed that McDougal was simply accompanying her down the street from her home on Thursday morning, but she failed to board the school bus or attend classes. A bag resembling her distinctive red Hello Kitty backpack was later found discarded near a local dam, as reported by Polk County officials.

Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton confirmed on Tuesday that prosecutors are in the process of preparing an arrest warrant for McDougal, emphasizing the possibility of charging him with capital murder based on the available evidence. Audrii’s remains were found in the Trinity River downstream from where her backpack had been discovered, coinciding with one of the locations McDougal had reportedly mentioned to investigators regarding his movements around the time of her disappearance, according to Sheriff Byron Lyons.

The condition of Audrii’s remains has not been disclosed at this time, pending investigation by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office to determine the cause of death. McDougal, already in custody on unrelated aggravated assault charges since Friday night, is the focus of intense scrutiny. Efforts to ascertain if McDougal has retained legal representation have been unsuccessful, with CNN reaching out to his family for comment on the allegations.

McDougal’s close ties to Audrii’s family, particularly her father, are underscored by his residency in a trailer on their property and his occasional role in escorting the girl to catch her school bus. Despite his involvement in the search efforts, Sheriff Lyons expressed skepticism regarding McDougal’s sincerity, suggesting that his actions were aimed at deflecting suspicion rather than genuinely assisting in locating Audrii. McDougal’s social media activity in the aftermath of Audrii’s disappearance, where he proclaimed innocence, further muddied the waters.

The discovery of Audrii’s remains was facilitated through a combination of cell phone records, video analysis, and information provided by McDougal. To aid in the recovery effort, authorities regulated the flow of water from the Lake Livingston reservoir, allowing the river level to decrease sufficiently to expose the remains. As investigations progress, the focus remains on ensuring justice for Audrii, with Sheriff Lyons extending condolences to all who knew and loved her.

McDougal’s criminal history, spanning back to at least 2003 and marked by convictions for violent offenses and enticing a child, casts a grim shadow over the case. His prior convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon highlight a propensity for violence, with victims recalling harrowing encounters with him. The community, initially hopeful for Audrii’s safe return, now grapples with the profound loss and the unsettling realization that a trusted acquaintance may have been involved in her tragic fate.

Audrii’s untimely demise has left a deep scar on her community, with expressions of grief and disbelief reverberating through her school district and among her loved ones. As they come to terms with their loss and navigate the complexities of the ongoing investigation, the profound impact of Audrii’s absence is keenly felt, leaving a void that cannot be easily filled.