A recently released convicted sex offender was arrested Saturday after the body of an 8-year-old girl was found at a Florida church.
Donald James Smith, 56, of Jacksonville, was arrested and charged with murder after police cornered his white van on I-95, according to investigator, Mike Williams.
Smith served 438 days on felony charges of child abuse and unlawful impersonation of a public employee. He was released on May 31. He has been a registered sex offender since 1993 after a conviction for attempted kidnapping and the selling of obscene materials.
Charish Lilly Periwinkle was shopping with her mother when she was abducted on Friday night. Smith allegedly befriended Charish and her mother in the dollar store and “offered to take them to Walmart and buy her family some clothes.”
“They appeared to be down on their luck, and he could help them out,” explained Williams, the director of investigations at the Jacksonville Sheriff's office.
After several hours in Walmart, Smith said he would buy them some hamburgers. He took Charish with him to the front of the store and disappeared with the 8-year-old girl in his van.
An Amber Alert was issued early Saturday after her mother called 911. Police received a tip about a suspicious van in the woods near Highlands Baptist Church that morning. Charish’s body was found nearby. Williams would not disclose how Charish had died.
An officer spotted Smith’s van on I-95 and called it in. The interstate was shut down while officers pulled him over and arrested him. According to Williams, Smith met with police to verify his address the morning before the abduction, an annual requirement for registered sex offenders.
Williams said Smith refuses to cooperate with investigators.
Smith has been arrested several times since 1993. In 2009, he was convicted of child abuse after he made obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old girl. Smith made verbal threats and told the girl he was social worker from the Florida Department of Children and Families who was investigating her family.
Photo: NBC Miami