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Suspect charged with Audrii Cunningham’s murder after missing girl’s body found in river

Suspect charged with Audrii Cunningham’s murder after missing girl’s body found in river

A suspect has been charged in the death of Audrii Cunningham after the 11-year-old’s body was found in a river in Texas on Tuesday.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, was charged with capital murder of a person equal to more than 10 years old but less than 15 years old, a day after the missing 11-year-old girl’s body was found in the Trinity River in Livingston, Texas, about 10 miles from her home.

The charge means he will be eligible for the death penalty.

Authorities said Mr McDougal was already in custody on an unrelated aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge.

Audrii’s body was found after she vanished on her way to school on 15 February around 7am.

She was allegedly heading for her school bus stop, but school officials told police that she was never picked up and that she never arrived at school.

Audrii Cunningham, 11, vanished on 15 February (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)
Audrii Cunningham, 11, vanished on 15 February (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

Mr McDougal was first named as a primary person of interest in the case before officials labeled him a suspect.

Investigators believe he was a friend of Audrii’s father, and was allowed to live in a trailer behind the house where Cunningham lived with her father, grandparents, and other family.

Court records from Brazoria County, south of Houston, show Mr McDougal was indicted on attempted indecency with a child nearly 17 years ago. However, he pleaded down to two felony counts of enticing a child stemming from a 2007 incident and was sentenced to two years in prison. The charge does not require sex offender registration.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said that in the past, Mr McDougal had taken Audrii to the bus stop or would take her to school if she missed the bus.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, was charged with capital murder (Polk County Jail via AP)
Don Steven McDougal, 42, was charged with capital murder (Polk County Jail via AP)

He added that Mr McDougal had admitted to leaving the house with Audrii the morning she disappeared but would not tell investigators what happened next.

Following Audrii’s disappearance, the 42-year-old allegedly agreed to take investigators to several locations, including the Livingston Dam, where investigators discovered what they believe to be the girl’s backpack.

Sheriff Lyons added that investigators were being very cautious with the information Mr McDougal gave them, but stressed that, at the time, he had not confessed to anything.

However, police now believe they have “enough evidence” to connect him to Audrii’s disappearance, according to Sheriff Lyons.

During the press conference, the sheriff said that officials had the Trinity River Authority lower water levels in order to find the 11-year-old’s body.

Authorities said Audrii’s body is with the medical examiner’s office to determine her cause of death.

“My heart aches with the news, and I express my deepest sympathies and condolences,” Sheriff Lyons said.