What We Know About the Death of 11-Year-Old Audrii Cunningham in Texas

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
February 23, 2024US News

Audrii Cunningham, the 11-year-old Texas girl whose body was found in a river this week, died from homicidal violence that included blunt head trauma, a medical examiner’s office said Thursday.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, a family friend who authorities say was supposed to be taking Audrii to the school bus stop the day she disappeared, is charged with capital murder.

Authorities had named him as a person of interest early in the investigation. He was charged in her death after authorities announced that Audrii’s body had been found in the Trinity River in a rural area north of Houston, not far from where she lived.

Here’s a look at what’s known about the slaying:

When Did She Go Missing?

Audrii’s family reported her missing at about 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 after she didn’t come home after school. Investigators then discovered that she had never gotten on the bus to go to school that morning.

Authorities have said that she lived with her father, grandparents and other relatives in Livingston near the shore of Lake Livingston.

Mr. McDougal lived on the the same property in a camper. The day that Audrii went missing, she left her home in his vehicle, according to the capital murder complaint filed against Mr. McDougal.

The justice of the peace who released the complaint did not know if Mr. McDougal had hired an attorney yet but said he had indicated he did not want a court-appointed lawyer.

Where Was Her Body Found?

Audrii’s body was found in the Trinity River at a location about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from her home.

A large rock was tied to her body with a rope, according to the complaint.

The primary cause of death was homicidal violence including blunt head trauma, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said on its website.

What’s the Evidence in the Case?

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons has said there is “substantial evidence,” including cellphone data that was used to help identify places to look.

Also, the complaint says that the rope used to tie the large rock to Audrii’s body was consistent with rope seen in Mr. McDougal’s vehicle.

A backpack believed to be Audrii’s was found Friday near the Lake Livingston dam. That lake is one of the state’s largest reservoirs and was created with a dam on the Trinity River.

What Is Known About the Suspect?

As authorities searched for Audrii, Mr. McDougal was arrested Feb. 16 on an unrelated charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. That complaint, dated Feb. 16, alleges he stabbed a man last summer.

Court records from Brazoria County, south of Houston, show Mr. McDougal pleaded no contest in 2008 to two felony counts of enticing a child and was sentenced to two years in prison.

By Jamie Stengle

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