Murdered Audrii Cunningham’s family breaks silence: ‘The system failed us’ - Hindustan Times

Audrii Cunningham’s family says suspect's name didn't show up in sex offender registration system: 'System failed us’

BySumanti Sen
Feb 26, 2024 12:48 PM IST

Audrii Cunningham’s father and grandmother have released a statement days after their family friend, Don Steven McDougal, was charged with capital murder

Slain 11-year-old Texas girl Audrii Cunningham’s father and grandmother have released a statement days after their family friend, Don Steven McDougal, was charged with capital murder. McDougal has been ordered to be held without bond.

Court documents said a large rock was tied around Audrii Cunninghan’s body when it was discovered (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)
Court documents said a large rock was tied around Audrii Cunninghan’s body when it was discovered (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

Cunningham’s father and grandmother said they are devastated by the tragedy. They added that McDougal did not show up in the sex offender registration system before they gave him permission to stay on their property, according to Click 2 Houston.

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McDougal was Cunningham’s father’s friend. He lived in a trailer behind the house, and would occasionally take Cunningham to school.

According to investigators, McDougal agreed to take Cunningham to a school bus stop on the morning she went missing. The court documents said a large rock was tied around Cunninghan’s body when it was discovered.

Read Audrii Cunningham’s father and grandmother’s full statement below:

"One week ago on Thursday, the 15th of February 2024 Audrii Danielle Cunningham was lured under false pretenses, which led to a senseless act of violence occurring and ultimately to her death. Tragically, Audrii’s death occurred at the hands of a monster we thought was a friend, only 10 days after Audrii’s 11th birthday.

Audrii Cunningham was a charismatic, beautiful, talented, and kind young lady. She loved singing, dancing, reading, and painting, she was even learning the skills of a tattoo artist. Most of all, caring for and playing with animals was her passion; Audrii’s aspirations were to become a veterinarian or an animal trainer. Every day Audrii was out caring for our pets and walking our dogs, she would even walk the dogs of neighbors in the subdivision. She touched so many lives and filled them with joy and happiness that was infectious. She had so much energy and brought a passion to everything she did. Audrii will be missed by a great many people.

The Munsch and Cunningham families are devastated and grieving for what happened to our little ray of sunshine, Audrii. We are being attacked and criticized on social media platforms for showing compassion and mercy to this formerly incarcerated person, but our interactions with this person were a result of our faith, which teaches us to give our fellow man a second chance.

Unfortunately, the system failed us due to a loophole in the sex offender registration system. Don Steven McDougal had a history of disrespect for young female children, but it did not show up when we checked the registry before allowing him to stay in an old camper in our back yard while he tried to start a new life. Had we been aware of what we know now, this man would never have set foot on our property, much less been a part of our little girl’s life.

We wish to acknowledge and thank the Polk County Sherriff’s Office, the Livingston Police Department, the Texas State Troopers, the Texas Rangers, the Texas State Guard, the Trinity River Authority, the FBI and nearby County Sherriff Departments and well as thousands of volunteers, our local VFW Post, and the public for helping to search for and ultimately find the body of Audrii. We also wish to thank the non-profit organization Texas EquuSearch for their tireless efforts that ultimately led to the discovery of, and recovery of Audrii’s body from the waters of the Trinity River. This was a hard-working multi-jurisdictional effort that spent long hours in order to bring our angel Audrii home to us and bring this monster to justice.

We also wish to acknowledge and thank the members of the press who helped spread the word when the Amber Alert went out, and quickly pulled our community together with the common goal of bringing our little girl back home safe and sound. This coverage was considered invaluable to help focus attention and gather valuable leads that helped the search efforts. We were advised not to speak with the press during this time as it may have impeded the search for Audrii or shifted the focus from finding her.

Audrii Danielle Cunningham will be missed, but hopefully not forgotten as we would like to ask Legislators and Law Enforcement both locally and in Washington, DC to look at the loophole that prevented us from knowing what Don McDougal was, a convicted sex offender. The sex offender registry is a valuable tool that parents and grandparents everywhere use to keep their children safe from these violent predators. This failing of the system is a crime that we cannot allow to go overlooked.

There will be a memorial ceremony for the repose of the soul of Audrii Danielle Cunningham at the First Baptist Church in Livingston, TX on Friday, the 1st of March 2024 between the hours of 5 PM to 8 PM, and the public who helped in this effort are invited to attend. Please wear purple which was Audrii’s favorite color. A private funeral ceremony will be held the next day for close friends and family only. Please respect us in our time of grieving as we lay our precious little Angel to rest.

If you wish to drop off flowers, cash or check donations in memory of Audrii Danielle Cunningham, please contact Livingston VFW Post 8568 at (936) 327-9119. (Please make checks payable to VFW8568 and put in the notes “Audrii Cunningham”.) A Venmo fund (Venmo@VFW8568) has also been set up to see Audrii to her final resting place. Proceeds exceeding funeral expenses will be donated in Audrii Cunningham’s name to Texas EquuSearch up to the 2nd of March 2024. Later donations will be expanded to include organizations that protect our children from sexual predators, and organizations that assist these children and their families who experience this kind of senseless violent crime.

Again, we would like to thank everyone who was involved in the search for Audrii, and we hope you will do the same for others going forward. God bless y’all and God bless the children."

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