Girl, 8, dead; sex offender arrested

Published June 23, 2013

JACKSONVILLE — A registered sex offender recently released from jail was charged Saturday with murder in the death of an 8-year-old Florida girl abducted while shopping with her mother.

Donald James Smith, 56, of Jacksonville was taken into custody after police cornered his white van on Interstate 95, said Mike Williams, director of investigations at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Authorities had put out an Amber Alert with details of Smith's van early Saturday, hours after receiving a 911 call from Charish Perriwinkle's mother about the missing girl.

Prior to the alleged abduction Friday night, Smith befriended Charish and her mother at a dollar store, and "offered to take them to Walmart and buy her family some clothes," Williams said. "They appeared to be down on their luck and he could help them out."

After spending a couple hours together inside the Walmart, Smith offered to buy hamburgers and walked with Charish to the front of the store, Williams said. Instead, Smith walked Charish outside and they got into his van, Williams said.

The girl's mother called 911 when she realized Charish and Smith were missing.

An Amber Alert was issued, and a tip about a suspicious van spotted in the woods near a church led investigators to Charish's body Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, an officer working at the scene of a crash on I-95 on Saturday morning recognized Smith's van as it drove past her and called it in.

The highway was shut down while other officers pulled Smith over and arrested him.

He has not cooperated with investigators, Williams said, and it was not immediately known whether he had an attorney.

He lived briefly in St. Petersburg in 2007 at the Palace Mobile Home Park, following his release from prison, according to Bay News 9. The park, on 54th Avenue N, has become notorious in recent years as a haven for sex offenders, who have difficulty finding housing anywhere else .

Williams declined to answer reporters' questions about how Charish died or what Smith did in the hours between his disappearance with the girl and his arrest, saying that the investigation remains open.

Smith has been a registered sex offender since a 1993 conviction in Duval County for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials.

He has been arrested several times since then, most recently in 2009 on a charge of child abuse after making obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old girl, making verbal threats, and impersonating a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families who claimed to be investigating the girl's family.

Smith pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in that case and was released from jail May 31.