Who is the suspect in Audrey Cunningham’s disappearance in Texas?

(CNN) — Don Steven McDougall, a suspect in the death and disappearance of 11-year-old Audrey Cunningham, is a family friend assigned to pick her up at the school bus stop the day she disappeared. McDougall also assisted in an extensive search for the girl, which lasted several days, before her body was found in an East Texas river on Tuesday.

Audrey’s family believed the suspect was walking the girl down the street when the two left their home Thursday morning, but the girl never got on the school bus or her class, and her red backpack, a shiny Hello Kitty-like bag, was thrown behind. A local dam, according to Polk County authorities.

Prosecutors are preparing an arrest warrant for McDougal, 42, and believe the evidence supports a charge of capital murder, Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton said Tuesday.

Audrey’s body was found in the Trinity River, downstream from a reservoir near where the backpack was found and McDougall told investigators he had been around at the time of her disappearance. Byron Lyons.

Information on the condition of Audrey’s remains has not been released at this time, the sheriff said, adding that the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the cause of death.

Don Steven McDougal is a suspect in the death of Audrey Cunningham, an 11-year-old girl in Texas. (Credit: County Jail / AP)

The suspect is already in custody after being arrested Friday night on an unrelated aggravated assault charge, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

CNN has not been able to determine whether McDougal has obtained legal representation and has reached out to his family for comment on the allegations against him.

McDougall, a friend of Audrey’s father, lived in a trailer on the family’s property and sometimes took the girl to catch the school bus in the neighborhood, according to Lyons. He is a key figure in her disappearance as authorities frantically search the rural East Texas town of Livingston, about 70 miles northeast of Houston, he said.

While the search was underway, McDougal joined the effort and was seen knocking on doors in the neighborhood asking if anyone had seen Audrey, the sheriff told CNN. But Lyons doesn’t believe his efforts were justified.

“To me, it’s just saying that he’s trying to give the appearance that he had nothing to do with her or that he’s not to blame for her disappearance and that (he) is part of the interested parties that tried to find her. stayed,” Lyons said. This Tuesday.

In the days following Audrey’s disappearance, the suspect claimed he was “innocent” and had “done nothing wrong” in several social media posts, as his Facebook activity showed. }

“I’m not guilty,” a Facebook account that appeared to belong to McDougall wrote in a comment below a post on the “True Crime Society” profile the day after Audrey Cunningham was reported missing.

“I was there and they questioned me. I’m not running or hiding,” McDougall wrote before again commenting, “I did everything I could to help find him. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

CNN contacted police about Facebook comments that appeared to be McDougal’s, but authorities have not responded about the social media posts.

Investigators used cell phone records, video analysis and information from McDougal to locate Audrey’s remains, Lyons said. To help find the body, water management authorities slowed the flow of water from the Lake Livingston reservoir, causing the river level to drop enough for the remains to emerge, he said.

“I extend my deepest condolences to everyone who knew, cared for and loved Audrey,” the sheriff said. “We will continue to process the evidence gathered to ensure justice for Audrey.”

Background of the suspect

McDougal has a lengthy criminal history dating back to at least 2003, including convictions for violent crimes and one count of child entrapment, according to court records from several Texas counties.

In 2007, he was convicted of luring a minor in Brazoria County, Texas. According to court records, he pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, but 527 days served.

Online records do not provide details about specific charges in child molestation cases, but the state defines the crime as “the intent to interfere with the legal custody of a child under the age of 18” when a person “entices, persuades, or takes a child from the custody of a parent or guardian.” is.”

McDougall was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2010 and 2019.

In 2010, McDougall was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to four years in prison, Harris County District Court records show. McDougal pleaded guilty to threatening a man with a knife.

The victim in that case told CNN on Tuesday that McDougall, her former co-worker, assaulted her after kicking her out of her home.

“He came with some other friends he had,” said Alick Bryan. “We kicked him out of the house and he came back with a knife.”

Bryan said McDougal began to stab at the door before going back inside.

“He came at me with a knife, and I had my shotgun and I hit him in the face,” Brian told CNN. “I had no idea he was that kind of guy.”

Brian experienced the loss of his seven-year-old daughter, who died of cancer in 2016.

“There’s nothing that compares to losing a child. It’s the scariest thing in the world,” Brian said.

“If he (McDougall) is responsible for this girl’s abduction, I don’t think there’s a big and dark enough cell for him.”

A charging document in Bryan’s case indicates that McDougal was convicted three years earlier of ensnaring a child in Brazoria County, Texas. Court records show he pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, but was given credit for 527 days served. Online Brazoria County records do not provide details about the specific charges in that case.

According to court documents in Liberty County, Texas, McDougall was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon again in 2019. The prosecution in that case said McDougal hit a man “in the back of the head with a pipe or object unknown to the grand jury.”

CNN has not been able to determine whether McDougal already has legal representation.

The community is heartbroken by Audrey’s loss

After pleading for Audrey’s safe return, her loved ones must now deal with news of her death and a criminal investigation into a suspect some of her family considered their friend.

The Livingston Independent School District said in a statement posted on Facebook that the fifth grader’s classmates and teachers are also mourning the “tragic loss.”

“While the details of this tragedy are still emerging, our hearts go out to the entire community during this heartbreaking loss,” said Superintendent Brent Hawkins.

Amidst the worry and uncertainty surrounding Audrey’s disappearance, her mother said she now understands the pain of parents of missing children she only heard about on the news.

“There’s no words to describe it. There’s not a feeling. It’s a roller coaster. You’re broken, you’re angry, you’re empty. And right now, I’m empty,” Matthews told CNN affiliate KPRC. on Friday.

It would never be the same if her daughter didn’t come home, Matthews said.

“There are so many opportunities ahead of him, and he deserves every right to be able to achieve them.”

Editor’s note: This text was updated with additional information.

— CNN’s Carol Alvarado, Andy Rose, Jillian Sykes, Rosa Flores, Sara Weisfeld and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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