JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A northeast Florida sheriff has ordered an internal investigation into the five-hour delay in notifying the public about Cherish Perrywinkle's abduction.
Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford said a failure in the chain of command was to blame for the hours that passed between police learning about the 8-year-old girl's abduction from a Wal-Mart and the first public notification about the case.
The girl's mother alerted authorities around 11 p.m. Friday. Authorities did not issue any public alerts about the abduction or suspect Donald James Smith until roughly five hours later.
"What bothers me is proper staff notifications didn't appear to have been made," Rutherford told The Florida Times-Union (http://bit.ly/10UwKym). "What I'm trying to figure out is how the ball got dropped."
An Amber Alert was being prepared about two-and-a-half hours after Rayne Perrywinkle's 911 call, but it had to be rewritten as more investigators learned more information about Smith, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which broadcasts the missing child alerts.
Certain requirements need to be met before an Amber Alert can be issued, including the determination that a child is in danger and the case is clearly an abduction, but there is no time limit, Plessinger said.
"We're always getting new information," she said.
Authorities say Cherish was targeted by Smith, a registered sex offender who had been released from jail May 31.
According to the sheriff's office, Smith, 56, befriended the girl and her mother while they were shopping Friday night. Smith later took them to a Wal-Mart, where he offered to buy them clothes and hamburgers, but instead of buying the snacks, Smith allegedly walked out of the store with the girl.
The child's body was found in the woods near a church Saturday morning. Smith is charged with murder and kidnapping.
Smith was released from jail May 31 after serving about a year in prison. He had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from obscene phone calls Smith made to a 10-year-old girl in 2009. Authorities said Smith also impersonated a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families who claimed to be investigating the girl's family.
The mother of the girl in that case told the Times-Union (http://bit.ly/11ZbHEz) that she wept when she learned Smith had been charged in abduction and killing of Cherish.
The woman had not wanted her daughter to testify against Smith. Now, she said, her daughter is afraid to leave the house because someone might blame her for what happened to Cherish.
"I should have fought ... for him to get more time," she told the newspaper. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com
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