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Mom of Texas 11-Year-Old Shares How She ‘Failed’ Murdered Daughter

Texas Department of Public Safety/Polk County Sheriff’s Office
Texas Department of Public Safety/Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Jail records revealed Wednesday that Don Steven McDougal, the suspect accused of murdering 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham and dumping her body in a Texas river, has been charged with capital murder.

The charge comes after Cunningham’s mom penned a heart-wrenching Facebook post in which she wrote that she “failed my daughter.”

That post, which is no longer publicly viewable, was reportedly made by Cassie Matthews before Cunningham’s body was found Tuesday. The Daily Mail reported that it said, “I’ll make this clear one time and one time only, I failed my daughter by being bullied into submission by her father’s family and being made to believe she was in a safe, loving, and normal home with her father.”

Body of 11-Year-Old Texas Girl Who Vanished on Way to School Found in River

Cunningham, who’d been living with her dad Joshua Cunningham in the small town of Livingston, about an hour north of Houston, vanished sometime on her way to school Thursday. School officials said she never made it onto her bus, and loved ones alerted police that they had no clue where the girl had gone—sparking a massive manhunt.

The Polk County District Attorney announced Tuesday that Cunningham’s body was found earlier that day in a river and that McDougal, a 42-year-old who lived in a trailer on the same property of Cunningham, was a suspect in her slaying.

Charging documents revealed that Cunningham’s body was found tied to a large rock in the river, using a rope that was allegedly similar to what investigators found in McDougal’s vehicle during a traffic stop last week.

The document alleged that McDougal lied to authorities about his whereabouts on Thursday, with prosecutors saying his story didn’t add up with phone data, video footage, and other forensic evidence.

The condition of Cunningham’s remains has not been released, and the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office is yet to determine her cause of death.

McDougal, who photos show has a swastika tattoo on his right arm, is now staring down a lifetime behind bars if he‘s convicted of capital murder.

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said McDougal had taken Cunningham to the bus stop in the past, and that he’d sometimes drive her all the way to school if she missed the bus. He is believed to have been the last person to see Cunningham before she disappeared.

In her post, Matthews reportedly shared some insight into the messiness that surrounded the girl’s custody situation. That included her shooting down rumors that said she lost custody of her daughter because of failed drug tests—lies she claimed were spread by Joshua Cunningham.

Matthews, who has changed her profile picture to a photo of Cunningham, wrote that she has “nothing to hide” as she accused others of “spreading bullshit” online, the Daily Mail reported.

“That is my daughter and I never lost any rights to her so as her parent I’m going to involve myself in anything I please concerning my child!” she reportedly wrote. “I’m tired of all the bullshit and I’m tired of being silent, scared, and once again bullied into submission by people I don’t fucking know.”

Lyons said there is “substantial evidence” in the case, adding that cell phone data for McDougal linked him to the crime. McDougal was identified as a person of interest almost immediately last week, and was detained on unrelated assault charges on Friday.

The sheriff said that Cunningham’s body was recovered largely because authorities who manage the Trinity River, where she was found, had lowered water levels to help the search.

Joshua Cunningham hasn’t posted publicly about his daughter since the day she disappeared. In that post, he wrote, “My daughter Audrii Cunningham is MISSING she did not make it to the bus this morning. Contact me and the police immediately with ANY INFORMATION.” He and Matthews did not respond to messages from The Daily Beast.

McDougal has a lengthy criminal history that spans more than two decades and includes seven stints in prison. It includes convictions for, among other things, theft, driving while intoxicated, unauthorized use of a vehicle, drug possession, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and enticement of a child—a charge that did not land him on the registered sex offender’s list.

Prior to this week, McDougal was last locked up in 2020 when he was convicted on a harassment charge. The victim in that case, Ted Booher, told The Daily Beast this week that McDougal was a problem employee who once threatened to kill him “over 50 fucking dollars” in a pay dispute.

“Can you believe that shit?” Booher said. “He’s a bad apple. He ain’t worth a damn.”

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