Body of 11-year-old girl who disappeared on her way to school has been found in a river, sheriff says - East Idaho News

Body of 11-year-old girl who disappeared on her way to school has been found in a river, sheriff says

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(CNN) — The body of Audrii Cunningham, an 11-year-old girl who disappeared while on her way to school in Texas, was found Tuesday in the Trinity River, according to Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons.

“Audrii’s body was located at the Trinity River under US Highway 59,” Lyons told reporters at a Tuesday news conference. He later said her body had been taken to the medical examiner’s office and officials were awaiting information on her cause of death.

Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton said they are in the process of preparing arrest warrants for Don Steven McDougal, 42, who she said will be accused of capital murder.

McDougal was already in custody after he was arrested Friday night on unrelated aggravated assault charges, according to the sheriff’s office, but had been identified as the main person of interest in Audrii’s disappearance.

McDougal had joined in the search efforts for the missing girl, the sheriff told CNN earlier Tuesday.

“Some of the witnesses have even said that he was in the community and knocking on doors … asking have they seen her,” the sheriff told CNN.

“To me, it simply tells me is that he’s trying to give the appearances that he has no play or he’s not at fault in her disappearance and that (he’s) part of the concerned parties who were trying to locate her.”

CNN has attempted to find attorney information for McDougal and has also reached out to his family for comment.

McDougal, a friend of Audrii’s father, lives in a trailer on the family’s property and sometimes took Audrii to the bus stop, the sheriff said.

The family’s home is near Lake Livingston – “one of the largest reservoirs in the state, with 83,000 surface acres,” according to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Around 7 a.m. Thursday, McDougal and Audrii left the house for the bus stop, authorities said. That was the last time Audrii’s family saw her. She never made it onto the school bus or to school that day.

McDougal hasn’t told investigators whether he dropped Audrii off at the bus stop Thursday morning, the sheriff said. But “I do believe that he is our number one person of interest,” Lyons told CNN.

One of the few clues that has been made public in Audrii’s disappearance might be a red “Hello Kitty” backpack she was supposed to carry to school with her.

A “small backpack that likely belonged to a child was located near the Lake Livingston Dam” on Friday, the sheriff’s office said.

“There was enough in it to lead us to believe strongly that it is Audrii’s backpack,” Lyons told CNN.

But the young girl’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation and suspect foul play, but have not provided additional details.

The sheriff said he hopes cell phone and video analyses will help further the investigation.

“I’m not giving up the hope,” Lyons told CNN. “I think that she can still be alive.”

Polk County Crime Stoppers has announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for Audrii’s disappearance.

Audrii is White with blond hair and blue eyes. She stands about 4 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs about 75 pounds, the sheriff’s office said. The girl was last seen wearing black pants, a black hoodie with white lettering and black high-top tennis shoes.

Authorities ask anyone with information to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 936-327-6810 or submit an anonymous tip online.